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Phillies in town for three games against Cardinals at Busch

St. Louis Cardinals Yadier Molina goes high as Kolten Wong goes low, celebrating Molina's two run home run, scoring Jose Martinez (right) in the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium on May 6, 2019. Photo by Robert Cohen,

As Yadier Molina soaked in it, Bengie Molina soaked it all in.

Bengie stood with his back to the cellophane as the celebration unspooled in front of him, sprayed champagne showering his begoggled brother.

“He is a very serious guy with the game,” said Bengie, a former World Series catcher and current Cardinals Spanish broadcaster. “To now see him smile like this?”

Yadi's smile was as wide as a strike zone stretched by a catcher's pitch framing. It's the best smile in sports. And while every Cardinal flashed smiles Sunday in the clubhouse, following the division-clincher, there was something particularly sparkling about Yadi's.

I thought back to that day at Winter Warm-Up. January 2018. Yadi said he'd play three more years, through his contract, “and then, I'm done.” Since then, some people around Yadi have lobbied him to play a fourth, per Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch. Either way, 2020 or 2021 could likely be Yadi's last season.

And 2018 was a lost season.

And here in 2019, there were times one wondered if the Cards, yet again, would miss the playoffs by just a couple of games.

But since Molina's mid-August return from the injured list, St. Louis went 29-13 with nine shutouts in games he caught. His slash line in those 42 games: .285/.352/.449.

That's an .801 OPS.

Oh, and since the beginning of the now-famous four-game series at Wrigley Field, his OPS was .878 ... and could've been near .900, if Albert Almora Jr. hadn't robbed him of a sure home run and, on another occasion, a likely double.

“He has it in his heart — I think he is made for these moments,” Bengie said of Yadi from inside the clubhouse Sunday. “I really do believe it. I know people will say it's because he's my brother, but Yadi was made for these moments. His mindset for the game is beyond anybody's mind.

“For me to see him enjoy this win, and going hard — because they had to fight until the end against that Brewers team that didn't want to lose — this is a chance for him. He's getting to the end of his career. (It's a chance) to go to the playoffs and give it a go again and see what happens.”

Molina is past his days of being an MVP candidate, but he's perpetually valuable, exceedingly valuable, to the St. Louis Cardinals. His role — within this club, this community, this city — is rare. His presence is infectious inspiration.

“That guy over there,” outfielder Jose Martinez said, “you see him catch a 19-inning game like it's nothing. He was giving everything for us. And we have to do everything for him.”

And for the fans, a mere announcement of his name incites cheers or echo-like chants of that very name in response. Yadi could sneeze and St. Louis would applaud his ah-choo. But the fan base's adoration is part in respect to the past, but also an appreciation of the present. Yadi is a champion, and he's playing like one, yet again.

The Cardinals play Thursday at Atlanta in Game 1 of the National League division series. The playoffs. October. Like the old days.

“It's not over yet — a lot of stuff to come,” Martinez said after Sunday's 9-0 win to clinch the division. “Yadi was amazing. The bullpen was amazing. And we battled — battled until the end. … All the doubt in the season, all the stuff that people were talking, and didn't believe? We're here! We're here! I said it from the first day of spring training. We're good. We're going to win. And there's more to come.”

Soon after, the Cardinals players began chanting like they were Cardinals fans.

“Ya-di! Ya-di! Ya-di!”

Now 37, Yadi had experienced Octobers before accomplishing October. Back in 2002, Bengie was the starting catcher for the World Series champion Angels, and their brother, Jose, was also on the team. During an Angels' World Series workout, the 20-year-old Yadi watched from the dugout, wearing an Angels sweatshirt and Angels hat.

"This is my team right now," the Cardinals prospect told the Los Angeles Times.

Two Octobers later, the Cardinals were his team.

And by 2006 in New York — when he hit the homer and called the curveball — he was a St. Louis legend at 24.

Since then, there have been Gold Gloves and All-Star Games and World Series wins and World Baseball Classic classic moments. But Yadier Molina hadn't played in the postseason since 2015, which in “baseball years,” especially in this town, felt like an eternity.

So there he was Sunday in the clubhouse, clutching a beer with a shiny chain around his neck, which sure complemented his smile.

Yadi was asked about the Cardinals' restoration in pursuit of hardware.

Finally back in the playoffs, does it feel like things are back to the way it should be?

“It feels good to be back,” he said. “And I'm happy to be back.”

In other words, you're happy to be soaked?

“That's right,” he said with one more smile. “That's right.”

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