SAN FRANCISCO — The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in the Bay Area ballpark they know so well in October and began preparing for the possibility of facing the Giants without star catcher Yadier Molina.
“Another beautiful day in NorCal!” reliever Randy Choate shouted as he hopped up the dugout steps and onto the field for Monday’s workout.
“Shocker!” bench coach Mike Aldrete hollered in response.
Manager Mike Matheny is encouraged Molina might be able to help St. Louis as soon as Tuesday in Game 3, perhaps initially just off the bench as he recovers from a strained left oblique muscle sustained in Sunday’s 5-4 victory at Busch Stadium. Playing at all appeared doubtful only a night earlier, then Molina played catch under cloudless skies at AT&T Park and gave Matheny hope.
“A little better than what I expected,” Molina said afterward. “When I woke up, I was moving all right. We’ll see. I’m going to try.”
A.J. Pierzynski is the likely choice to catch former Boston teammate John Lackey in Game 3, and deemed himself ready. The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1.
Molina flew on the team charter on Sunday night after having an MRI. Once the Cardinals arrived at the ballpark on Monday, Molina met with team doctors and medical staff in the training room of the visitors’ clubhouse.
Matheny carried three catchers and has Tony Cruz and Pierzynski to fill the big void.
“Obviously it’s a big loss, but we spent some time without him this year and we’re fortunate to have A.J. and Tony, who are two really good players,” infielder Mark Ellis said. “We’re lucky to have them but I feel bad for Yadi because this is what he worked for the whole year and he’s not able to be with us.”
Tim Hudson takes the ball for the Giants, the 39-year-old right-hander’s first start beyond the division series in 16 major league seasons.
He is already thriving in the raucous playoff environment of pumped-up crowds.
“At this point in my career, it’s almost like a shot of coffee,” he said.
While noting he wishes no ill will for the injured Molina, Hudson would be fine not having to face the slugging catcher. There are plenty of other big bats to contend with, anyway.
“That would be a pretty big blow for them, not only from an offensive standpoint but from a defensive standpoint how he handles those pitchers.” Hudson said. “But it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if he’s not in the lineup for a few days, there’s no question about that.”
As the series shifts to San Francisco’s pitcher-friendly ballpark, the Cardinals know plenty about how the Giants protect their home field. Two years ago, St. Louis arrived in town leading the NLCS 3-2 before the Giants rallied to take the series on the way to their second championship in three years.
Lackey, too, has pitched on the big October stage in San Francisco — albeit back in 2002 with the eventual champion wild-card Angels.
Reminded he intentionally walked home run king Barry Bonds four times, Lackey smiled and said: “Wouldn’t you? Geez.”
“No offense to anybody in their lineup but they don’t got Barry Bonds,” he said. “They have got a really good lineup.”
While Molina is improving, Matheny also is pleased with Adam Wainwright’s health. His workload has come into question after the ace right-hander hasn’t made it out of the fifth in his two postseason starts. He threw a bullpen session Monday with a hitter standing in the box but not swinging.
“His game comes down to feel and when he has a good feel for his fastball, next thing you know that breaking ball has a nice, sharp break to it,” Matheny said. “So to hear from him that he feels great right now is great news for us.”
Hudson knows he will have to keep the Cardinals from clearing the fences, whether or not Molina is in there.
“They are hot with the longball, and that’s what beat us last night,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
On Sunday, St. Louis became the first club to hit home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a postseason game, according to STATS.
“That’s not necessarily how we’ve been winning games this season,” Matheny said. “We’ll take it.”
Giants reliever Jean Machi tore the fingernail on his right pinkie playing catch during Monday’s workout but athletic trainer Dave Groeschner said, “all good.”