Molina silencing critics with his bat
Catcher pacing club in most key offensive categories
PHOENIX -- Bengie Molina has kicked his drive for respect into a higher gear.The Giants' veteran catcher is off to the best start of his 11-year career, pacing his club in most key offensive categories while nursing a pitching staff along a remarkable streak of stinginess. Maybe his critics will start noticing more of his game than what occurs on the basepaths. "I've never really gotten any credit. The only thing they say about me is that I'm the slowest guy in the Majors," Molina said softly prior to the Giants' series finale here against the Diamondbacks. "They don't see what I can bring to a team, how I can help the younger guys become better players, and better persons. That's OK; I know who I am." Right now he is one of the hottest hitters in baseball, entering Sunday's action on a seven-game tear, during which he is 11-for-26 (.423) with four extra-base hits and five RBIs. Not surprisingly, his heat has coincided with the Giants' spurt of six wins in seven games. Extended excellence by San Francisco pitchers (nine runs allowed in those seven games) has set the pace. Molina is principal in that, too, calling the pitches for the staff under his care. The best staff he has ever caught? "How can I say that when I won a World Series [in 2002, with the Angels]? I've been lucky to catch a lot of talented pitchers," he said. "So I don't like to compare like that. But we've got some great pitchers, and they've all been in rhythm." As the senior member of the catching Molina brothers (a year older than the Yankees' Jose and eight years older than St. Louis' Yadier), Bengie has rich experience that includes a great run with the Angels that peaked with that franchise's only World Series title. Yet the Angels didn't put up much of a fight after the 2005 season to keep him as a free agent, perhaps the first entry in the "no respect" file of Molina, who didn't find a team that offseason until Toronto signed him on Feb. 6. The Angels certainly didn't choose to go in a different direction defensively, considering Molina's Gold Gloves in 2002 and 2003. They wanted more mid-lineup offensive bang out of that position, given Molina's good-glove, no-bat reputation. So how did the former Angels eighth-place hitter wind up replacing Barry Bonds, of all people, as the Giants' cleanup hitter? Molina smiles slyly.
"I don't consider myself a cleanup hitter," he said. "Wherever I'm hitting, I only think about putting a good swing on the ball. Batting cleanup, I don't put extra pressure on myself."I've been lucky to have a lot of RBI opportunities, and thank God I've been able to take advantage of them." Molina may not think of himself as a No. 4 hitter, but he has certainly responded to that calling. He leads the Giants with 13 RBIs this young season, and led them in 2008 with 95 -- 25 more than any teammate and 14 above his previous personal high (in his 2007 San Francisco debut; his Angels' high was 71). Manager Bruce Bochy's one-word nickname for Molina: "Clutch." Again, Molina grinned.
"I let other people form opinions like that," he said.That attitude makes it a little easier for him to shrug off impressions like the one offered last winter by a reporter who called Molina's 95 RBIs "the least impressive of anyone's total." He is still trying to figure out that one within his list of disses.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.