Talk about having your bases covered. Bengie Molina(notes) would get a World Series championship ring regardless of whether the Texas Rangers or San Francisco Giants win it all. He is about to become the first catcher in baseball history to appear in the Fall Classic against a team he played for earlier in the season.
Molina is the Rangers' catcher, a savvy veteran whose three-run home run in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series was critical to knocking off the Yankees.
Molina also was the Giants' catcher from 2007 until July 1 of this year, when he was traded to Texas for reliever Chris Ray(notes) and minor leaguer Michael Main. Ray, a reliever who pitched credibly for both teams, also could end up with a ring regardless who wins, although the Giants haven't put him on their playoff rosters.
Molina played 61 games for San Francisco and 57 games for Texas during the regular season. He has sparkled during the postseason, batting .333 with two homers and seven RBIs in nine games.
Now he returns to San Francisco for Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, the scene of many of his most cherished memories in 13 big league seasons. Molina, 36, is credited by several Giants pitchers as being a key to their maturation. He was Tim Lincecum's(notes) catcher during two Cy Young award seasons and got him to trust his changeup regardless of the count. He urged Matt Cain(notes) to attack hitters with his fastball. He helped Brian Wilson(notes) become one of the game's top closers.
"He molded me," Lincecum said. "He knows batters' tendencies and put the right fingers down for me to throw the right pitches. He knows every hitter in the game."
Molina was dealt because the Giants believed rookie Buster Posey(notes) was ready to catch every day. They were right about that: Posey is a top candidate for rookie of the year and has solidified the cleanup spot in the batting order. Posey is a better hitter than Molina and more than a decade younger. But the Giants pitchers privately say they miss Molina's encyclopedic knowledge of opposing hitters.
"When I was with the Giants, I became a brother. I became a father, sometimes," Molina said shortly after he was traded. "I became a guy who took aside a lot of the young kids and talked to them about not only baseball, but life itself."
Molina is the oldest of three brothers who grew up in Puerto Rico to become major league catchers. Jose Molina(notes), 35, has two World Series rings as a career backup: the first with the Angels in 2002 and the second with the Yankees in 2009. Yadier Molina(notes), 28 and regarded as one of the best catchers in baseball, has been to two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals, losing to the Red Sox in 2004 and beating the Tigers in 2006.
And this isn't Bengie Molina's first World Series. He was the Angels' starter in 2002 when they defeated the Giants in seven games. Overall he's been in 38 playoff games, hitting .281 with five homers and 19 RBIs.
Molina is regarded as a superior clutch hitter. He drove in at least 80 runs in each of his three full seasons with the Giants. And his blast against A.J. Burnett(notes) in Game 4 of the ALCS was among the most important in the Rangers' ascent to the AL pennant. Moments earlier, Nelson Cruz(notes) had advanced to second on a fly out to center fielder Curtis Granderson(notes), prompting Yankees manager Joe Girardi to order left-handed hitting David Murphy(notes) to be walked intentionally. Molina turned on an inside pitch and drove it into the left-field seats to transform a one-run deficit into a 5-3 lead.
He's also providing the same leadership and knowledge to Rangers pitchers that he did for Lincecum, Cain and Wilson. Young starters C.J. Wilson(notes) and Colby Lewis(notes) say they have benefited from his ability to call a game, and rookie closer Neftali Feliz(notes) has become a Molina disciple.
"Bengie was quiet when he first got here," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He's gradually become more vocal, and everybody is benefiting from his experience. When he says something, everybody listens."
They especially will tune in now. Because he knows the Giants staff so well, Molina might be of greater help to his fellow Rangers hitters than to the pitchers. It doesn't smack of betrayal, because everybody has to do what it takes to win.
And if the Giants can overcome Molina's input and defeat the Rangers, they'd award him a championship ring for his service the first half of the season. He might even get a winner's share of the playoff cash pool regardless who wins. If so, he ought to accept the spoils. That's part of the game, too.