Molina’s return spells trouble for Cubs

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ST. LOUS – Don’t waste your time going to Yadier Molina’s locker to find out how he felt catching Game 1 of the NLDS, his first game in nearly three weeks because of a torn ligament in his left thumb.

“Yes, very good. No problems,’’ Molina answered before the question was finished.

Yes, but how difficult was it catching with a protective splint on your catching ha—

“No, no, no. Like I said, everything was good so hopefully tomorrow it stays that way, too.’’

Maybe Molina wasn’t all that sore. But chances are he toughed out a huge game for the Cardinals, who need their heart, soul, pitch-caller and team leader behind the plate. Manager Mike Matheny had said it would be a matter of how much Molina could tolerate.

“You know, I’m so impressed with him today,’’ Matheny said. “When he’s got that kind of energy and life and you can see it’s infectious when he gets behind the plate.

“He about knocked [third baseman] Matt Carpenter over throwing what had to be 96 down to third base after that first strikeout.’’

Speculation that Molina was saving something when he took a called third strike his first time up – he started walking to the dugout before Jon Lester’s pitched hit David Ross’ mitt – began to circulate early. Molina, batting seventh, flied out to center and grounded to second his other times up.

“I thought his swings looked good,’’ Matheny said.

The rust of not playing probably was felt most at the plate. His value to the Cardinals, whose pitchers allowed three hits and no runs to the Cubs, was having him behind the plate.

“It’s big,’’ Cardinals right fielder Randal Grichuk said. “Any time you get Yadier back there it’s huge. The things he does and brings to the team, you can’t even say them all.’’

“The way he moved behind the plate today, the way he and John [Lackey, 7 1/3 scoreless innings] were just kind of working back and forth. And Yadi always has his eye on the field … he is so valuable to our club in so many ways, ways that you can’t put numbers on. Today was an example of one of those days.’’

The big number for the Cardinals was 1, as in a Game 1 victory in a best-of-five series.

“A game 1 win, I mean, it is huge,’’ Molina said. “We have to come back strong tomorrow.’’

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