Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina both end legendary careers with hits, but Cardinals come up short vs. Phillies

The St. Louis Cardinals‘ loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series on Saturday night spelled an end not only to their 2022 season but also to the careers of two franchise legends and future Hall of Famers. Barring unlikely changes of heart, Yadier Molina, No. 4, and Albert Pujols, No. 5, will now retire. 

Molina spent his entire career, all 19 years of it, in a Cardinals uniform. He won two World Series (alongside Pujols); made the All-Star team 10 times; won nine Gold Gloves; caught more than 18,000 innings; and tallied more than 2,000 hits. He’s in the discussion for best defensive catcher ever to play the game. 

As for Pujols, 12 of his 22 seasons came in St. Louis, and it was in St. Louis that he established himself as one of the great right-handed batters of all-time. His 2022 reunion after being away from the Cardinals a decade, may have looked like idle nostalgia on both sides. However, it turned out to be a critical addition by the Cardinals en route to winning the NL Central. Pujols authored one of his best seasons in years and also, against all preseason expectations, surpassed 700 home runs for his career. Against that backdrop of excellence and tenure, the duo now steps away. 

Pujols in his final game enjoyed a two-hit night, and in his final appearance in the eighth inning he laced a two-strike single down the line that would’ve been a double had Kyle Schwarber not played the rebound perfectly. At that point, Pujols was lifted for a pinch runner and received yet another deafening standing ovation. 

Pujols represented the potential tying run – so call that final hit a clutch one – but the Cardinals were unable to convert. In his last act as a major-league player, Pujols succeeded. 

With two outs in the ninth, Corey Dickerson blooped a single to the opposite field to bring Molina to the plate one last time, this time as the potential tying run. Like Pujols, he came through. Molina dumped a two-strike single into right to put runners on the corners. Molina, too, was lifted for a pinch runner and feted enthusiastically, just as Pujols was. In a further bit of symmetry, the Cardinals weren’t able to take advantage. In his last act as a major-league player, Molina succeeded. 

“This is my home. St. Louis is my home,” Molina told reporters after the game. “I appreciate all the fans for all the support over many years. … I’m blessed and happy the way my career went.”

Molina was also asked about the prospect of never again being teammates with Pujols. “I’m going to be his brother forever,” he said

Next for the brothers will be their numbers on the left field wall of Busch Stadium, and then comes Cooperstown. The work of getting there and earning that is now done.

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