PITTSBURGH — When it was all over, after the Cardinals had excised the “Jolly” out of Pittsburgh’s “Jolly Roger” victory flag in an 18-4 rout of the Pirates despite the fact they trotted out a lineup that you might never see again, the debate raged on. Who was the best (worst?) pitcher between sure Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and almost certain Hall of Famer Yadier Molina?
Neither started this game but Pujols the all-time best hitter in PNC Park at .373 with 32 homers, most by a visiting player, popped two homers after coming into the game as a designated hitter halfway through the action as he gave Nolan Arenado a rest.
“They’re going to need Nolan more than they need me,” Pujols said “Nolan plays every day. This is not about me. It’s never been about me. I never took a swing all day. I came up here (to the clubhouse), put my shoes through two or three strings and I was ready to go.”
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Pujols thus passed Hall of Famer Willie Mays for third place all-time in total bases at 6,071. “To be mentioned in the same sentence is pretty special,” Pujols said.
Closer to home, Pujols went into third place ahead of another of his idols, Hall of Famer Stan Musial, for extra-base hits at 1,378. That one of the homers, a three-run shot in the ninth, came off a position player in second baseman Josh VanMeter, didn’t matter to Pujols. No. 683 for his career counted just as much as the others.
Pujols knows about allowing home runs to position players. A week ago on the ESPN Sunday Night Game of the Week, Pujols, making his pitching debut, allowed two homers and four runs in the ninth inning of a blowout win over the San Francisco Giants. And now Molina knows, too.
After being warmed up by Pujols before the ninth inning after a brief late-game rain shower, Molina, after “quite a bit” of arm twisting with manager Oliver Marmol, made his first major-league pitching appearance on the Peacock streaming service’s Sunday Morning Game of the Week. The results were the same. Two homers allowed — to Yoshi Tsutsugo and Jack Suwinski — and four runs. The earned run averages for both are 36.00.
“Unbelievable,” said Molina.
“But mine was better,” Pujols said. “I didn’t give up a double. (Molina) gave up a double.”
Marmol, asked to settle the debate, said, “That’s a tough question, there. I feel like Yadi had more command of his fastball.”
Molina said, “Of course I do. But today it was raining. I didn’t have a grip on the ball. I couldn’t throw my split-finger.”
Pujols countered by saying he retired a hitter before the first homer off him was hit. “Doesn’t matter,” said Molina.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux, who wasn’t really responsible for either Pujols or Molina, said, “One guy (Pujols) is used to hitting more home runs. So he got a taste of his own medicine. But I tip my hat to Yadi. He actually had a plan — down and away and up in. And he was throwing the curveball down in the count. Albert was just heaving it.”
Both pitchers were in the 50s and 60s range in miles per hour. Molina said this wasn’t his first time pitching. He had pitched in Puerto Rico last winter and bragged about striking out Kansas City infielder Emmanuel Rivera although giving up a homer. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to use two position players in winning games was the 1918 Detroit Tigers with Hall of Fame outfielder Ty Cobb and outfielder Bobby Veach.
And now, of course, 40-year-old pitcher Adam Wainwright wants to pinch hit. “That should be the next notch on Oli’s belt,” said Wainwright. “I’ve actually gotten hits. I’ve hit home runs. (Pujols and Molina) can’t get outs, apparently. The ERA is not good.
“And,” said Wainwright, “there’s no way for me to strike out four times in one at-bat.”
A musing Marmol said, “He’s a better hitter than they are pitchers, I would agree.
“But you’ve seen enough of him. He’s hit for years. No, I’m not risking that one. “
Marmol started a lineup without Paul Goldschmidt, second in the National League in hitting at .342 and riding a hitting streak of 14 games. Platinum Glove third baseman Arenado didn’t play in the field.
Only one of the five reigning Cardinals Gold Glovers was in his normal position, center fielder Harrison Bader. And to further accentuate the seemingly makeshift lineup was the fact that right-hander Angel Rondon wasn’t on the club officially until an hour before game time and became the winning pitcher. Rondon was in the game after four pitches when starter Steven Matz couldn’t shake left shoulder stiffness.
And this is why Marmol sits in his chair and we sit in ours. And, as for that particular lineup never playing again, Marmol smiled and said, “You might be wrong. I might run the same one out tomorrow.”
By the end of the fourth inning, every Cardinal in the starting lineup had at least one hit. For the game, all 10 Cardinals who batted had least one hit, one run and one run batted in. Nolan Gorman, Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan all had three hits as the Cardinals had a season high of 20.
With Pujols’ first homer in the fifth, he has five pinch homers in his career, with his previous pinch homer as a Cardinal coming 13 years ago. Of course, it was at PNC Park, where Pujols is 13th in home runs (including Pirates), among all the players who have played here.
“Sometimes you just get into a stadium where you’re seeing the ball well,” said Pujols, although he was nothing for five with three strikeouts on Saturday. “Last night wasn’t the best night but you put it in the book and just put it in the past.
“I can’t tell you what it is. This is one of my favorite stadiums, not just because I do well. I think it’s a beautiful stadium. I love coming here in the summer. Blue sky, the view of the city ... it’s pretty awesome.”
Marmol noted that Pujols has made a “conscious effort to make some adjustments against right-handed pitching, which he hasn’t done in the past.” Both homers were off right-handers, even though one was a second baseman. Before Sunday, Pujols was four for 49 (.098) against right-handers this year.