It’s been a couple of months since I’ve weighed in on the sometimes frustrating, (almost) always endearing Cardinals. Yadi’s return to the lineup seemed like the best time to recount the time I’ve missed writing about.
I was watching Yadi’s first game back in CityGarden in downtown St. Louis on their giant screen (so St. Louis) when a girl who couldn’t have been more than 12 years old came up to the screen, watched for a few seconds, turned around clapping and screaming, “Yadi’s behind the plate again!” I also had the chance to stop by the stadium at that first game back and hear the roar when Yadi was announced.
Whether you live in Lake Saint Louis or Belleville, IL, you know Yadi. Even if you don’t know the difference between a strike and a ball, you know Yadi. If you’ve ever received, purchased or found a Cardinals shirt/jersey (that wasn’t Pujols), it was probably Yadi. If you consider yourself one of the BFIB (to take a Twitter-favorite term), you also probably know how the Cardinals function without Yadi in the lineup, as evidenced recently.
More than once in the past couple of weeks, I thought about how much easier it is to watch a baseball game when your team is winning. This doesn’t discredit the fandom at all, it’s just a fact. It also brought about a fair amount of respect for teams that have fairly consistent losing records. To fans of Cubs, Astros, etc., I appreciate your commitment. It’s not always easy. I’m just glad that the Cardinals have proven time and again that the struggle is worth it. See 2006, 2011, even 2012.
But now Yadi’s back and, as I watch this final game of the Cubs series, I am so glad. Yesterday’s homer and (as of the 2nd inning), his double and following run today are necessary for the team that has obviously and painfully struggled in his absence.
I’m not saying that the team’s success is completely reliant on Yadi but I am saying that he plays a pretty major role in it. This isn’t just skill-wise but attitude-wise, as well. He is a leader of this team and not actively having him in that capacity has made a difference. Odds are that every Cardinals pitcher would agree that they can’t do what they do without Yadi doing what he does. And what he does is pretty incredible. Without him there, we’ve seen pitching that leaves something to be desired. While that might not be inextricably linked to Yadi’s catching, it’s part of it. I’ll acknowledge that, since the All-Star Break, this team has struggled and Yadi has been there for part of it. But that struggle has been magnified, it seems, without Yadi on the field.
Offensively, Yadi is just as important. Still sitting at #2 on the NL batting average list and #4 in the MLB, you have to look back at those low-scoring (or no-scoring) games that have happened far too often in the past few weeks for the Cards and ask, what would have happened if Yadi was there?
He’s not a magician. He can’t just ‘fix’ the slump that they’ve fallen into. But he can try. And, maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll have the chance this year to get to the playoffs without even having to be the Wild Card.
(Maybe this is a bad thing to wish for. The underdog story has worked pretty well for them in the past).
In his absence, Tony Cruz and Rob Johnson have been about as good as they can be without actually being Yadi, himself. While that’s a terrible rationalization, it’s the one that Cardinal fans have to use because there’s no other way to describe it. As I write this, Dan McLaughlin just said, “Not to take away from Tony Cruz at all but….” and that’s the sentiment that has echoed throughout Cardinal Nation since Molina’s stint on the DL. Cruz and Johnson are good but, for this season, at least, they’re not Molina.
The Cardinals are a playoff team but Yadi is a big part of what makes them that way. I guess the huge sigh of relief that collected in St. Louis this week when Yadi walked out of the dugout really says it all. We missed you Yadi, welcome back.