Oct 16, 2014 4:35 PM

Tony Cruz starts at catcher for Cardinals

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Catcher Tony Cruz is in the St. Louis lineup for Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night with the Cardinals facing elimination by the San Francisco Giants.

A.J. Pierzynski caught the previous two games in place of injured star Yadier Molina and went 1 for 6. He had an RBI single Wednesday night in a 6-4 loss.

Cruz is in to face San Francisco left-hander Madison Bumgarner, an 18-game winner, and to catch ace Adam Wainwright's tough curveball as the Cardinals ace tries to get back on track this October and extend St. Louis' season. The Cardinals trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

"That goes into it, but Bumgarner goes into it, too," manager Mike Matheny said. "Tough at-bat for anybody. We have to grind all the way through. We like what Tony brings behind the plate. A.J. has done a nice job, too."

Molina is missing his third straight start after two losses at AT&T Park. He strained his left oblique muscle during Sunday's Game 2 at Busch Stadium.

The six-time All-Star and Cardinals leader warmed up in the bullpen each of the past two nights, but wasn't used by Matheny. Molina tried to take some swings before Wednesday's loss, but still felt discomfort in his side.

Before missing Tuesday's Game 3, Molina had started the previous 83 postseason games for the Cardinals since Matheny was behind the plate for Game 3 of the 2004 World Series against Boston.

Molina campaigned to play Thursday.

"We didn't really know where to go with the conversation because he still knows that the swinging thing isn't an option. But it was a pretty valiant effort that he gave to try to convince," Matheny said. "

Cruz, batting eighth ahead of Wainwright, is 0 for 3 with a pair of strikeouts in the series. He replaced Molina on Sunday night in the top of the seventh inning with the game tied at 2. Cruz's passed ball helped the Giants go ahead, then St. Louis tied it in the bottom of the seventh.

Cruz struck out as a pinch hitter in a 3-0 Game 1 loss to Bumgarner and the Giants.

Pierzynski started Games 3 and 4 even though he wasn't on the Division Series roster and had caught only nine innings since Aug. 30.

Matheny realizes how much Molina wants to be on the field, and still considered him an option coming off the bench for defense. It would have happened Wednesday night if the Cardinals had come back to tie it, and Molina would have been instructed not to swing or to bunt.

"This guy, he's a warrior as much as anybody can be on a baseball field," Matheny said. "It's killing him right now to be on the sidelines and not able to do what he wants to do and what he can do to help our club. But he also has faith that these other guys can get the job done."


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