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Hochman: Yadier Molina has more than lived up to ‘El Marciano’ nickname

From the Thanks for the memories: Our special tribute to Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols series
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The Post-Dispatch is publishing a weeklong series on the storied careers of Cardinals Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina as their final regular season in St. Louis comes to a close. Pick up the print edition on Sunday, Oct. 2.

As St. Louis Cardinals legend Yadier Molina's career comes to a close, take a look back at his 10 most memorable moments.

As the old story goes, the UFO landed in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, during the summer of 1982.

From afar, the Martians always appreciated the baseball sincerity of the Molina family, and how the proud father raised and groomed two elite catchers.

And so, this 1982 day, the Molinas were gifted a third catcher, a baby whose talent was, well, otherworldly.

They named him Yadier.

“He’s from another planet, he’s an alien, he’s ‘El Marciano,’” said his brother, the former big-leaguer Bengie Molina. “He’s so good, it’s like he’s from another planet.”

“El Marciano” is Yadi’s other nickname and translated means “The Martian.” Over the years, it wasn’t really part of the St. Louis lexicon, but it’s an apt moniker for Molina, who defined (and, at times, redefined) the catcher position. And as he reaches the autumn of his 19-year career this autumn, here’s a chance to provide proper perspective and appreciation for “El Marciano,” the catcher who could and would do things that regular humans just didn’t.

“Yadi is the best defensive catcher I’ve seen in my existence,” said the legendary Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons, who is in Cooperstown.

“He sees everything beyond the game — all the little, tiny things,” said Molina’s teammate Miles Mikolas, the Cardinals’ All-Star pitcher. “The reactions from the other team, the reactions from the hitters to how he calls the game, coaches talking to runners at first, the runners at first looking back at the bag, all of it. He sees where the defense is, and he subtly alerts the defense for who needs a head’s up (to move). It’s such a wide-ranging understanding and manipulation of the game. I think that would be a good word to use. As a catcher, he has an extra-special ability to see the game and manipulate it to the team’s benefit.”

From back-picking baserunners to stealing souls of base stealers, the extolled skillset of “El Marciano” is extraterrestrial.

As for his impact on the way the game was played, perhaps this succinctly sums it up:

From the start of 2005 (Yadi’s first full season as the starting catcher) to September of 2022, Cardinals opponents stole 878 bases. Not only was that the fewest allowed in Major League Baseball, but the next-lowest number was 1,296 by Diamondbacks opponents — that’s 418 more stolen bases. Teams just didn’t run on Yadi.

As for the most steals allowed by a team, it was 1,928 (Padres). So, during the course of Yadi’s career as a starter, the Padres allowed 1,050 more stolen bases than the Cardinals in that same timespan.

There’s more. If you combine the Cardinals’ stolen bases allowed (878) with runners caught (479), that’s 1,357 total steal attempts against St. Louis. Every team but three allowed more stolen bases than the Cardinals had total steal attempts against.

“Look, he’s an incredible player,” said Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, who, as scouting director in 2000, oversaw the team’s drafting of Molina in the fourth round. “I think the greatest compliment you can give someone is: they have the ability to be able to play every day, in probably the most demanding position to play — and then do it at such a high level with such a high baseball IQ. I think anybody that’s ever been around Yadi will tell you: You learn from him; he doesn’t learn from you.”

“El Marciano” appreciates his nickname — he even has a tattoo on his neck of an alien face. In the Cards’ clubhouse this year, he sported a basketball jersey from his Puerto Rican team with No. 4 on the back and EL MARCIANO above. On Instagram, his handle is @yadier_marciano_molina. The Cardinals’ Spanish Twitter feed — @cardenales — also refers to him with the nickname (and an emoji of an alien face). And Polo Ascencio, who does the Cards’ Spanish broadcast along with Bengie Molina, breaks out the nickname for special moments. In September against Washington, when Molina hit his first of two homers in the game, Ascencio announced: “La leyenda, el lider, El Marciano — Yadier Molina!” (“The legend, the leader, the Martian — Yadier Molina!”)

Of course, what makes Molina amazing isn’t just his galactic talent, but how many years he sustained it behind the plate. I mean, he’s 40! When he was a rookie in 2004, the Cards’ current possible “Yadi-heir,” Ivan Herrera, was only 4. Molina caught games during George W. Bush‘s first term and second term, then both Barack Obama terms, through the Donald Trump administration and now to Joe Biden. Heck, when “El Marciano” started, Pluto was still a planet.

“Buster Posey told me last year, in his words, from a catching standpoint, how much of a Martian he is,” Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said. “We were talking out in right field last year, and he says, ‘You know, I’m about to retire. I’ve played 12 years. And he’s on 18 and he catches every day. I’ll play first base, like, a quarter of the time – and he catches every day! I just can’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not possible how he does that. How can he still get into a crouch?’”

Alas, he’s in the ninth inning.

Molina will retire at season’s end.

What a run.

And here’s wondering if somewhere in outer space, the toughest and smartest Martian has a neck tattoo of Yadier Molina.

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On Sunday, the unofficial theme of the day was — home. For a man from Puerto Rico and a man from the Dominican Republic, this city in the middle of America is also home. They are eternally welcomed here and forever revered here. Crouched behind home or stoically standing beside it, Molina and Pujols took up residence in St. Louis, where they called home for a combined 31 seasons. Thirty-one. So many home runs and runs crossing home.

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