Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Bengie Molina's impact felt on each side
By Jeff Caplan ESPNDallas.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- When catcher Bengie Molina deposited a three-run homer into Yankee Stadium's left-field bleachers in Game 4 for the winning runs and a commanding grip on the American League Championship Series, he crossed home plate, smiled into the stands and pointed to his cheering family.
"My family's everything," Molina said. "I had my wife there, my kids, my mom was there, my aunts, they were all there. And my dad was watching from the sky. It was very special."
Bengie Molina's three-run home run in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS propelled the Rangers to a 10-3 win over the Yankees.
There might not be a tighter-knit family in baseball. Molina is the eldest of three major league catchers -- Yadier plays for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Jose plays for the Toronto Blue Jays. All of them grew up on the baseball diamond in Puerto Rico under the watchful eye of their father and mentor, Benjamin.
Benjamin died suddenly on Oct. 11, 2009, of a heart attack while he tended to the baseball diamond he loved, the very field of dreams his sons grew up on, learning how to play the game the right way.
Molina's home run, his fourth career postseason blast against the Yankees, came one year and one week after his father's death.
"I dedicated my life to him," Molina said. "We were very close. We're all close. That was a devastating blow to our lives. We just have to deal with it and learn how to live with it."
More emotional upheaval followed Molina just as he was contemplating retiring after this season, his 13th in the big leagues. He always figured he would do so after a fourth season with the San Francisco Giants, an organization for which he had helped groom a dynamic, homegrown pitching staff, and a team he had quickly come to embrace like family.
But, the Giants reminded Molina that the clubhouse is family and the front office is business. Needing to carve room for bust-out rookie catcher Buster Posey, San Francisco shipped Molina to Texas, a team in need of a veteran hand behind the plate.
Molina was disappointed, but not bitter. He speaks of Posey in glowing terms, predicting he will soon be an All-Star and do amazing things in baseball.
Still, three months after the trade, not even Molina could have fathomed that both teams would defy the odds, that each would defeat the respective reigning league champion and advance to play in the World Series.
Had he been fortunate enough to get back to the World Series this season, Molina figured he would be set to catch the Giants' young ace, Tim Lincecum, and not the Rangers' indomitable Cliff Lee in Wednesday's Game 1.
"No, no, no," Molina said incredulously. "I knew they [the Giants] had a great chance to make it to the playoffs, but for both teams to be in the World Series? Not a chance. It's going to be a very happy, weird feeling. Weird because I played there for 3½ years and to wear another color in that stadium, it's going to be weird. But, I consider myself a professional and I'm with the Texas Rangers right now."
It didn't take long for Molina, a 2002 World Series winner with the Anaheim Angels -- over the Giants -- to ingratiate himself with his new teammates, especially the pitching staff and young hurlers like closer Neftali Feliz.
He quickly took over the bulk of the catching duties from Matt Treanor, who won over his teammates with his inspired play when the team's original catching plans went up in the smoke during the first week of the season. Treanor continues to catch C.J. Wilson, who will start Game 2, while Molina otherwise handles the daily rigors behind the plate.
"I think he helped out a whole lot of guys, not just Nefti," veteran reliever Darren Oliver said. "Most guys that I know that played with Bengie, he's one of the best clutch hitters that they've seen. I've seen it. I'm happy he's part of our team, I'll tell you that much."
Molina's bat has been magnificent this postseason, just another bonus for a peaking Rangers team that has seemingly erased every position of doubt it had during the regular season. When Texas acquired Molina on July 1, his offensive numbers were down and there was some concern that, at 36, he had lost his Midas touch.
He hit .249 this season, his lowest average since his last World Series run, and his five home runs were well off the pace of the 55 he hit with the Giants in three previous seasons, including the 20 he hit last season.
But, the postseason is a new season, and Molina's bat, as his history would suggest, has come alive. He enters this World Series cautiously, knowing the dangers presented by the Giants' staff that includes Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and rookie Madison Bumgarner.
"It is an awesome pitching staff. I think we all knew that," Molina said. "It isn't a secret. I'm not saying something you don't know. For the past few years they've been awesome on the other side."
Molina has the rare opportunity to help one franchise win its first World Series while at the same time preventing his former teammates and friends from bringing the Giants their first championship since 1954. The irony isn't lost on Lincecum.
"He always seemed to hit that game-leading home run to put us ahead when I was pitching," Lincecum said. "We had a pretty good connection there and we still keep in touch away from ball. Yeah, he's meant a lot to me and he's meant a lot to this team. He's a part of the reason why we're here and, obviously, part of the reason why they're here, too."
And so when this unexpected World Series matchup begins to unfold in a matter of hours, Molina will be surrounded by family -- in the Rangers' dugout, in the Giants' dugout, in the stands and in the sky.
And through it all, he will ponder if this truly is it for the oldest Molina brother.
"I've always said this might be my last year," Molina said. "I thank God for the beautiful career I had and I asked him, 'If I'm going to go, I am going to go in style.' And that means going to the World Series."
Jeff Caplan covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.