Molina’s shrewd, rare double play with Carlson covering second adds twist to otherwise ugly loss


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    There is no record of the play ever happening in any of the thousands and thousands of major-league games for the past 50 seasons and yet a rundown drill in spring training doesn’t pass without the Cardinals preparing for the possibility.

    In the second inning of a game already slipping away from them, the Cardinals, spearheaded by Yadier Molina, completed a double play Friday with rookie Dylan Carlson, the center fielder applying the tag at second base for the second out. The play was started by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau it is the first 3-2-8 double play in the expansion era. Their records that would have the details of that play go back to 1961.

    “We literally work on it every time we do fundamental or caught-off – which is what that basically turned into – or a rundown,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Every time we do that we have outfielders involved in that drill to back up a base.”

    All around the play in the second inning the game was a mess with the Cardinals losing 14-2 to Cleveland and allowing 28 baserunners before they could get out of the eighth inning. Starter Daniel Ponce de Leon didn’t last long enough to finish the first inning, and one of the two perfect innings pitched against Cleveland was by infielder Max Schrock, in the ninth. The Cardinals are a ninth-inning rally against Kansas City away from a five-game losing streak, and Friday’s game could have been worse if not for the improvised double play.

    Back to back singles off Jacob Woodford had put runners at the corners for No. 3 hitter and All-Star Francisco Lindor. Cleveland’s speedy shortstop lashed a grounder to first base that Goldschmidt gloved clean. He threw home to try and get the play at the plate with leadoff hitter Cesar Hernandez running. Hernandez screeched to a stop to draw Molina into a rundown and buy time for teammates, Jose Ramirez and Lindor, to advance to third and second.

    Seeing a chance to get two runners caught at the same base, Molina didn’t make the surefire throw to third to get Hernandez – he charged at him.

    With a move he was able to slide the ball to the mitt for the tag, and then pivot and be ready to throw to second where Lindor was arriving. Caught in the void was Ramirez. The Cardinals infielders shifted into their lines for a rundown.

    Molina turned toward Lindor as if to throw to an unmanned base, sold the throw but didn’t make it, and then fired to second to get Ramirez leaning away from the bag. There at second for the tag? Carlson, CF.

    “He sees the field so well, sees the runner coming over and then keeps going because he knows he’s got a chance for two guys on one base,” Shildt said. “Baserunner did a nice job of fighting to get back. And then Yadi tags him. Comes back over and then gave a little deke and then threw behind, back to second, to get the double play. That was a pretty special, instinctual play by Yadi.”

    Due to the length and possibly the result of Friday’s game, neither Molina nor Carlson were available for postgame interviews to discuss the play, leaving Shildt to riff.

    While the Cardinals’ offense has ghosted during their three consecutive losses, the outfield defense has been the beacon in the fog. Carlson has played well at all three positions. In Game 2 of the doubleheader Thursday, Carlson made a series of catches in right field look routine that had slices that weren’t not. Earlier in the week, playing left field, Carlson gave Kansas City a peek of his true arm when he threw from left to third base, and still the Royals tagged up and tested him a few innings – and he dutifully threw the runner out for a double play.

    In center for most of Friday’s game, Carlson followed the shrewd play covering second by throwing out a runner at second in the fifth inning. He cutoff a base hit, saw the runner trying to pickpocket the extra base, and Carlson had the throw greet him for the out. That minimized a mess brewing.

    During spring training drills, the Cardinals, like many teams, have their outfielders participate in rundown and caught-off (bases) drills. They’re assignments to cover the abandoned bases. When the first baseman races to join, the right fielder takes over at first. Center has second when the infielders scatter to other duties, and so on.

    After Goldschmidt, none of the infielders touched the ball on the 3-2-8 double play, but the traffic of Cleveland baserunners had them all ready to join the rundown. Molina handled that himself, running almost 180 feet on the play, and the moment he could not make the out himself, the kid had come all the way from center and had him covered.

    “The guy is a budding Hall of Famer,” Shildt said of Molina. “His instincts are as good as I’ve ever seen and his ability to understand how to play this game in real time is amazing. He does things on a somewhat nightly basis that you go, ‘Wow, that’s a special player.’”

    Pitchers and catchers report one day a year. We cover the rest. Wherever baseball takes us, The Post-Dispatch and will bring you there with unmatched year-round, 24-hour, and award-winning coverage of the Cardinals and Major League Baseball.

    Derrick Goold is the lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and past president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

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