MILWAUKEE (AP) — Yadier Molina’s defense and longevity might earn him a ticket to the Hall of Fame. Suddenly the veteran St. Louis Cardinals catcher is on a home-run tear.
He homered twice to back a strong start by Miles Mikolas and lift the St. Louis Cardinals to a 3-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday.
Molina’s two-run homer in the sixth inning off reliever Jeremy Jeffress gave St. Louis the lead and the Cardinals held on behind the solid pitching of Mikolas and four relievers.
Molina has five home runs in his last six games, including another two-homer game in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said the 35-year-old Molina has developed more power as he has grown older.
“He was such a young player when he came up,” Matheny said of Molina, who earlier this week set a major league record for most games caught with one team (now 1,762).
“You figured there was going to be room for improvement but the route he has taken is unique because you can’t always count on that kind of willpower. He’s as driven a player as I’ve ever seen.”
Marcell Ozuna led off the sixth with a line-drive single to center and scored on Molina’s shot to right-center, a ball that bounced off the top of the wall and into the St. Louis bullpen for a 3-2 Cardinals lead.
“He did some damage today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He was their offense.”
The Brewers (45-31) remained two games ahead of the second-place Chicago Cubs in the NL Central after Chicago lost in Cincinnati on Saturday.
Mikolas (8-2), who pitched in Japan last season, allowed three hits and two runs in 6 2/3 innings while walking two and striking out five. Bud Norris earned his 14th save with a scoreless ninth. Jeffress (5-1) took the loss.
“We didn’t have any idea what we were getting when we got him and he’s been everything as advertised from the Japanese league, plus,” Matheny said of Mikolas. “You just don’t know how that’s going to translate.”
Mikolas retired 16 of the last 17 hitters he faced.
The Brewers took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Jesus Aguilar and an RBI single by newcomer Brad Miller.
St. Louis closed the gap when Molina led off the second inning with a solo home run to right-center.
Brewers starter Chase Anderson did not yield another run in five innings, giving up two hits and striking out nine while walking four.
The Brewers had a big chance in the eighth when they loaded the bases with two outs on two hit batters and an infield single. Aguilar grounded out to shortstop against Cardinals reliever Sam Tuivailala to end the threat.
The Brewers recalled infielder Brad Miller from Triple-A Colorado Springs and optioned struggling outfielder Domingo Santana.
Miller, acquired from Tampa Bay on June 10 in exchange for first baseman-outfielder Ji-Man Choi, was in the Brewers starting lineup at second base and had a bloop RBI single in his first at-bat.
Santana hit .278 last season for Milwaukee with 30 homers and 85 RBIs, but never got on track this season. He hit .249, with three homers and 17 RBIs in 189 at-bats.
Miller, who played 95 games at shortstop for Tampa Bay in 2016, likely will play a utility role with Milwaukee.
“I was pretty excited to get the call and come to a team in first place,” Miller said. “I have the versatility to play everywhere but I’m definitely more comfortable in the middle of the diamond.”
Brewers: Ryan Braun entered in the fifth inning to play left field, when outfielder Lorenzo Cain exited due to groin tightness. Cain also was hit by a pitch in the right elbow on Friday and hit by a pitch in the back in the first inning Saturday. Counsell said Cain would not play Sunday in the series finale. “He’s just a little beat up,” Counsell said. Braun appeared for the first time since receiving a cryogenic injection in his right thumb on Wednesday and went 1-for-2. . RHP Zach Davies (10-day DL, right rotator cuff inflammation) is scheduled to make a second rehab start for Colorado Springs on Sunday.
Cardinals: RHP Luke Weaver (3-6, 4.69 ERA) will be making his 16th start of the season and seventh career start against the Brewers. He is 2-2 against Milwaukee.
Brewers: RHP Jhoulys Chacin (6-2, 3.18 ERA) had a six-game winning streak snapped in a 1-0 loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. Chacin is 0-6 with a 5.88 ERA in eight career games (seven starts) against the Cardinals.