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VOL. 132 | NO. 65 | Friday, March 31, 2017

Fans Fill AutoZone Park for 'Battle of the Birds'

Cards, Yadier Molina Making Progress on Contract

By Don Wade

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During batting practice Thursday afternoon at AutoZone Park, new Redbirds manager Stubby Clapp looked up at a clear blue sky.

“We got the Kissell Dome today,” Clapp said, referring to the late and beloved St. Louis Cardinals field instructor George Kissell.

Although there had been showers earlier in the afternoon, the Battle of the Birds between the Cardinals and their Triple-A farm team played to a large crowd (10, 220) and provided plenty of fireworks. Not the postgame kind that make Saturday nights here so popular, but four Cardinal home runs, including shortstop Jhonny Peralta striking a three-run blast onto the berm in left field in the first inning and catcher Yadier Molina immediately following with a solo shot landing on the berm.

The Cardinals won 9-3, but the big blast was news – first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports Midwest, and citing anonymous sources – that the Cardinals and Molina were finalizing a three-year contract extension worth more than $55 million and perhaps as much as $65 million.

“I’m on the clock,” St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak had said before the game. “It’s one of those things I don’t like to characterize, but it’s all about trying to find a place we’re both comfortable with. In my mind, we still have time.”

Molina has indicated he wants a deal done before the season starts.

After the game, Mozeliak confirmed a contract extension was “not done,” adding, “We’re optimistic. We’re hopeful. But it’s not complete yet and we understand the timeline.”

Molina also confirmed “nothing’s done,” but expressed optimism.

“It’s my main goal to stay here,” Molina said of St. Louis, saying he believes there could still be enough time to get the deal finished before the season starts. “I hope so.”

Molina received the loudest ovation during pregame introductions. Asked about that and Molina being the face of the franchise, Mozeliak deadpanned: “That’s not helpful to a negotiation, OK?”

But Molina, who played for the Redbirds long ago, enjoyed every bit of it.

“Anytime you come to Memphis they love baseball so much, it’s fun,” he said.

The Memphis faction of Cardinal Nation even warmed to new center fielder and former Chicago Cub Dexter Fowler. He didn’t disappoint, lining a single to lead off the game, making an over-the-shoulder catch in the bottom of the first, and singling to again in the second inning.

The Cardinals will open the season Sunday at Busch Stadium against the reigning World Series champion Cubs.

“It’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be kind of weird,” Fowler said before Thursday’s game. “Playing against the Cubs is gonna be bittersweet. Obviously the last game I played (the Game 7 World Series victory over Cleveland) was with them. But I’m excited to be in St. Louis and get started on this side.”

St. Louis manager Mike Matheny had pulled many of his starters by the fifth inning. But he appreciated what this game meant for fans here.

“For us, it’s figuring out ways to stay engaged with our fan base,” he said. “This is a great chance for us to come around, sign some autographs, say hello to fans, show them the big league team and introduce them to their Redbirds team.”

The Redbirds mustered just four hits. Alex Mejia and Blake Drake hit solo homers for Memphis.

The Cardinals were to play at Double-A Springfield on Friday and then it’s Game One of the 2017 MLB season.

“In St. Louis, it’s like a holiday come opening day,” said outfielder/first baseman Matt Adams. “The whole city shuts down. We got the parade with the Clydesdales and riding in the back of the trucks. You pull out of the tunnel and you see a sea of red out there.”

And playing the Cubs, pitcher Adam Wainwright says, just adds extra juice.

“Yeah, there won’t be a more fun series to play, probably, than opening day in St. Louis against the Chicago Cubs,” Wainwright said. “I don’t know if there’s anything better than that besides playing them in the playoffs.”

EXTRA INNINGS: The Cardinals made several moves on Thursday, placing pitchers John Gant (right groin), Alex Reyes (right elbow surgery), Trevor Rosenthal (right lat strain) and Tyler Lyons (right knee) on the 10-day disabled list. Reyes, who is done for the season, will be moved to the 60-day DL. The Cardinals also recalled right-hander pitcher Sam Tuivailala from Memphis.

Molina not only homered, he showed off his Gold Glove defense when he snagged a foul pop right next to the backstop screen.

Redbirds center fielder Harrison Bader made a nice over-the-shoulder grab of a deep drive off Diaz’s bat in the first inning. Mozeliak said Bader will get most of the time in center here, but will play some in the corners in preparation for a possible call-up to St. Louis.

Memphis begins its Pacific Coast League season on April 7 in New Orleans. The home opener at AutoZone Park will be at 7:05 p.m. April 11 vs. Colorado and starts a seven-game homestand.

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