SAN FRANCISCO - Yadier Molina is baseball's all-knowing, all-seeing field general, a modern-day mash-up of John Stockton, Peyton Manning and Yogi Berra.
Now the Cardinals catcher hopes to add the defining characteristic of one more sporting hero to his repertoire: Willis Reed.
It's unclear whether Molina will be healthy enough to play against the Giants for the remainder of the NLCS after straining an oblique Sunday night in the Cardinals' Game 2 win that evened the series.
If he does, it will be through intense pain, most likely as a defensive replacement. He hasn't swung a bat since he was doubled over Sunday night. He compared the sensation to "someone nailing you with a knife.''
"That was the worst feeling of my career, the worst pain I've ever felt,'' he said Monday.
Though the Cardinals covet Molina's bat, it's his role as pitcher whisperer that has made him so invaluable. He's won six Gold Gloves, in addition to a Silver Slugger, a combination befitting the game's best two-way catcher.
"I'm sure that everybody in the room would like to feel that their role is irreplaceable,'' Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said before the series. "But he might be the one guy that really, truly, hits home with. If you lose a guy like him, the whole dynamic of this team changes.''
Cardinals fans needed only the sight of a hobbled Molina to understand the consequences. Busch Stadium became quiet enough to hear a Clydesdale wiggle its tail.
He first felt the pain in his first at-bat Sunday. It's also the reason he laid down a curious sacrifice bunt. "We had no warning until that first at-bat,'' said manager Mike Matheny, who called Molina day-to-day.
With Molina in the starting lineup, the Cardinals went 62-47. Without him, they were 28-25. They will go with A.J. Pierzynski or Tony Cruz Tuesday night in Game 3.
The Cardinals hope Molina at least is available as a defensive replacement as soon as Tuesday night, an encouraging sign after the pain he endured Sunday.
"I didn't think there was any possibility, having had that injury myself,'' said Matheny, whose mind changed when Molina threw with full velocity at Monday's workout.
He'll remain on the active roster, mostly because removing him would make him ineligible for the World Series should the Cardinals advance.
"We'll take him in any capacity, even if it's as a cheerleader on the bench,'' Matheny said. "But to have him active and as a weapon, that's very valuable to us.''
With a similar injury, Molina missed a few weeks during spring training in 2010. But he refused to declare his season finished.
"No,'' he said. "It's not over.''