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17 years ago, Yadier Molina was an instant hit in his debut with the Cardinals

17 years ago, Yadier Molina was an instant hit in his debut with the Cardinals

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Dodgers first baseman Albert Pujols, a longtime Cardinal and World Series champion in St. Louis, discusses with Post-Dispatch baseball writer Derrick Goold several things about Yadi Molina. Video by Derrick Goold, Post-Dispatch

On June 3, 2004, Yadier Molina made his Major League debut for the St. Louis Cardinals. Here is how Rick Hummel captured the moment.

Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny said he was feeling no better after suffering a strained muscle in his right side Wednesday, and he was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

The Cardinals' future fast-forwarded several months when prized catching prospect Yadier Molina, 21, was promoted from Class AAA Memphis.

Molina, the youngest of the three catching Molina brothers -- Bengie and Jose play for Anaheim -- started Thursday's game against Pittsburgh, catching Woody Williams. Not only did he handle that job well, but he threw out a runner at second, tagged out another at the plate and had two hits and scored a run in the Cardinals' 4-2 victory.

Molina was hitting .310 with one homer and 14 runs batted in at Memphis. He had struck out only 13 times in 36 games and he had thrown out an impressive 17 of 28 runners who had tried to steal.

Mike Mathney and Yadier Molina

In 2003, Mike Matheny and Yadier Molina. Photos by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

General manager Walt Jocketty said there was little debate on who to summon from the minors.

"He's the right guy," Jocketty said. "It's a great opportunity for him and a great opportunity for us to see what he can do."

Manager Tony La Russa said he would "mix and match" Molina with incumbent backup Cody McKay.

"We're going to go one game at a time, one series at a time," La Russa said.

Molina, a righthanded hitter, was one of eight righthanded batters who faced Pittsburgh lefthander Oliver Perez on Thursday.

Plus, McKay and Williams had struggled working together when Williams started in Houston last week.

Molina has been with the Cardinals during the last two spring trainings and had impressed La Russa, pitching coach Dave Duncan and Matheny.

"He's an excellent receiver and thrower," La Russa said. "He has a lot of poise and maturity beyond his age and experience. And he's got the kind of stroke where he can get some base hits."

La Russa said that with the makeup of the Cardinals' staff being mostly veterans, "we're going to encourage them to take charge. But there's more for (Molina) to do than just go out there and play."

Duncan and La Russa said Molina would get all the help he needed from the bench, but Duncan added, "He's not intimidated by the major leaguers. He should do all right.."

Matheny said he had enjoyed working this spring with Molina and had looked forward to his emergence onto the big-league stage, although he joked, "I wasn't necessarily excited about seeing it this year. But I'm going to do everything I can to help him."

Upon being awakened at home at 11:30 Wednesday night by Memphis manager Danny Sheaffer, who surprised him with the news, Molina called his brothers in Anaheim.

"It was Jose's (29th) birthday and he was very happy," said Yadier (pronounced YAH-dee-air) Molina.

Asked what advice his brothers might have given him, the youngest Molina said, "They told me to just keep working hard and not to pay attention to the fans. Just keep working hard like in the minor leagues. They've taught me a lot about how to play this game."

The Puerto Rican born Molina, whose only prior experience in a big-league stadium was to watch his brothers play in the 2002 World Series in Anaheim, is listed in the media guide at 225 pounds but looks much sleeker.

"He's lost a lot of weight," center fielder Jim Edmonds said.

Yadier Molina is a multi-award winning catcher who has been with the Cardinals since 2004.

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