ST. LOUIS -- There was a standing ovation as he walked in from the bullpen alongside Shelby Miller and another as he stepped in for his first at-bat since July 9. There was even hearty applause for Yadier Molina as he returned to the dugout after striking out moments later.
Without question, St. Louis was thrilled to have its favorite catcher back on the field.
The Cardinals activated Molina from the disabled list on Friday, 40 games after a right thumb injury that required surgery and a seven-week absence. After catching 11 innings in a two-day Double-A rehab assignment, Molina caught all nine on Friday. He went 0-for-3 at the plate with two strikeouts, a lineout and a hit by pitch.
"I missed it a lot," Molina said. "I couldn't wait another moment to be on the field with them. It's been a long two months for me, but I'm happy right now to be in the lineup again. Any time you're on the DL at home while your teammates are on the field playing, it's a terrible feeling."
He wore protective tape on his thumb, as he will continue to do, but was not tested by any attempting Cubs basestealers. Asked if opposing teams may try to test his throwing hand, Molina responded, "I'll be ready for it." Before the injury, Molina was leading the league with a 49 percent success rate throwing out runners.
The Cardinals will monitor how Molina responds to the rigors of catching full games again, though there won't be much of an ease-in process as the club will need Molina to catch one of the team's two games on Saturday. His physical conditioning is not a concern, as Molina shed unnecessary weight by maintaining a rigorous workout schedule during his rehab.
"I think getting to watch him play and see how he looked at Springfield made you realize that during his time away, he got in real good shape from a physical standpoint," general manager John Mozeliak said. "In terms of the injury itself, we are doing it with a little bit of caution and holding our breath to some degree, but he feels like he can protect himself and still allow himself to contribute. With that being said, he really wants to be out there, and we're going to give him that chance."
Molina helped navigate Miller through seven innings in one of Miller's most efficient and effective starts of the season. Miller said afterward that he shook off Molina just once during his 93-pitch night. That was on a pitch that Starlin Castro ended up hitting off the center-field wall for a double.
"Obviously," Miller deadpanned, "I shouldn't have shook."
The Cardinals, 21-19 during Molina's absence, are seven games above .500 when he has been active.
"There's no question that he's been a valuable piece of this club for many years -- the leadership that he brings, the production that he brings," manager Mike Matheny said. "There is a lot of obvious and intangibles that he brings to the table."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.