"He's a tiger," La Russa said. "The guy is all smiles and he looks like he may be soft inside, but he's tough as nails. He's showed it over and over again. I think he's a star already; he's just going to get better and better and better."
A star? Molina's numbers (.255 batting average and two home runs) may not merit an All-Star nod, but La Russa speaks prophetically, judging his young player's work ethic and potential, not even two full years into his Major League career.
Last season, Molina played 51 games as a backup catcher and hit .267 with two home runs, 15 RBIs and 12 runs scored. But Molina didn't have much time to sit back and learn as a reserve, as the Cardinals elected not to re-sign one of the game's most knowledgeable veteran catchers in Mike Matheny.
The position was seen as a possible weak spot for the Cardinals this season, but starting Molina behind the plate has been a smooth transition. He has thrown out 55 percent of base runners trying to steal on him. Offensively, Molina's quick development has made opposing pitchers queasy when facing the No. 8
Through 53 games this year, Molina has either equaled or better most of his offensive stats from last season. He's scored 21 runs, has 11 more hits and four more RBIs than he did in 51 games last season.
"He was great last year, so I knew coming into this season that he'd be able to develop and go out there and call a game," said pitcher Matt Morris, who, with the help of his batterymate, held the Yankees to one run in six innings on Sunday. "He really cares, and I think that's the number one [asset] that Yadi has -- that he really cares so much about what he's doing.
"He doesn't care about hitting home runs; he cares that the pitcher is executing, getting outs and [that Molina is] calling the right games. With a guy behind the plate that cares like that, it gives the pitcher confidence and helps everybody."
Molina has been able to help his team offensively just as well. On Sunday, he broke out of a 3-for-20 and 0-for-10 slump with three hits against the Yankees, scoring twice. In the third inning, Molina doubled and came around to score on David Eckstein's RBI single.
Then, in the seventh, he singled and came around to score on rookie Scott Seabol's game-winning, two-run homer.
When Seabol hit his home run, the first of his Major League career, Molina flashed the soft smile La Russa spoke of as he rounded the bases.
"I was excited for him; I was so happy for him," Molina said.
What La Russa seems to admire most about Molina is his approach to the game. Molina never seems to get down about slumps; his approach rarely changes, and he just keeps hacking away until he manages some hits.
"I just try and make the pitcher work, look for my pitch and have a fun time," Molina said. "That's my approach every day: Whatever happened yesterday, leave it alone and try to do better the next day."