With Yadier Molina making the chartered flight to San Francisco, a few worrisome hearts have been saved from rooftops this afternoon. The question still remains. Who catches tomorrow afternoon at AT&T Park in Game 3? A.J. Pierzynski or Tony Cruz? There is no way Yadi will be able to go two days after severely aggravating an oblique on his left side. He will need rest. My realistic hope is him coming back for Game 7 or in the World Series if the Cards make it. Right now, Mike Matheny‘s big concern is who crotches down behind homeplate for the start against Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong the next two games. My pick is Pierzynski and it’s quite simple.
The players respect Tony Cruz. He is the protege to Molina and has been with the club for a few years. However, the team seems to get a kick out of A.J and his veteran wildness and leadership. They respect AND admire the vet. Last night, after Kolten Wong launched the game winning home run, he screamed at A.J., “Hey AJ, did I get on base?” The young players get a fire lit in their stomach with this guy around. They want to do well around him and impress him. The supposed clubhouse cancer has become a clubhouse savior, taking over the role that Lance Berkman carried for two seasons and Carlos Beltran did for the last two seasons. He is the veteran edgy presence that will shoot you straight no matter what the subject line is. Pitcher analysis, opposing team or local takeout food. A.J. is your guy.
He has barely started this past month. After Molina came back, A.J. fell back to the back of the bench, used for occasional pinch hitting duties or whatever Oscar Taveras couldn’t handle. During that downtime, A.J. endeared himself to his teammates and built up a level of respect. If Pierzynski’s on the field contributions were minimal, he was building foundations in the clubhouse.
Now that Molina is down(at least for a few games), the decision needs to be made on who starts. Pierzynski works for several reasons.
First, the man has been around a while. When in doubt, you go with experience and Pierzynski has that in droves. A.J. is 30-100 in postseason play, even if he hasn’t been there since 2008 with White Sox.
Second, he is familiar and works well with John Lackey, the Game 4 starter. The two worked together in Boston and are born to complete a playoff battery set. Each are fiery individuals and cut the crap when it comes to playoff baseball.
Third, A.J. won’t have the jitters and won’t need a long time to shake off the rust from being a cheerleader for a month. Cruz was inserted into Sunday’s game and looked lost. Like Pierzynski, he was a backup to Yadi without much use for the final few weeks of the season. It comes down to who can handle the time off better and A.J. clearly can.
It also depends on which catcher the pitching staff seems to trust. This is something that clicks. Cruz knows all the pitchers but Pierzynski has played in 30 playoff games. He has stood behind the plate during the World Series and inside a few of the loudest ballparks.
This is why the Cards brought Pierzynski onto their team. Someone to give the team an edge and fill a gap and maybe produce a few big hits. With Yadi down for a little while, the team needs all the edge they can get. A.J can provide that and then some.
Or, the team could go with Cruz’s shaky defense and non-existent bat. I don’t mean to be harsh but this time of year, I have to be direct, blunt and share no special feelings for players. Matheny does enough of that…anyway.
Pierzynski should get start Tuesday and Wednesday. He can give the team a presence on defense, a known face for pitchers to feel safe with and opposing players to detest, and he may have a few bullets left in that bat of his. The Cards can’t go wrong.
That, or Yadi Molina magically heals from his strained oblique and makes the start. Since I am not counting on that to happen, ride it out with A.J.P. and his true grit.
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Until then, stay up my friends.