Molina is upbeat, smart and serene
ARLINGTON -- Returning to his locker at Tropicana Field following Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday, Bengie Molina ran through his text messages. One in particular caught his eye.
"Here, take a look," the Rangers' catcher said, handing his cell phone to a reporter.
The text was from Giants catcher Buster Posey, one of the game's rising stars. It read: "Do it Beng! Nice game!"
Molina had homered, singled twice, and handled Cliff Lee and three relievers in a 5-1 victory that had Texas off and running against Tampa Bay.
A 6-0 decision followed in Game 2 with Molina in the dugout watching another veteran receiver, Matt Treanor, handle C.J. Wilson and the Rangers' deep, resourceful bullpen.
As his team, back home at Rangers Ballpark, reaches deep in pursuit of a sweep of the Rays on Saturday, Molina will be doing what he's done his entire career: staying cool, staying on top of things, making sure everybody is harmonizing.
"It's all about the team," Molina said. "It's all about character -- trusting each other, taking care of each other. This team knows how to play and what's important. We're not here for ourselves. We're here because we know how to win."
The message sent to Molina by Posey -- who went on to guide Tim Lincecum through the Giants' thrilling 1-0 victory over the Braves in Game 1 of their National League Division Series on Thursday night -- speaks volumes about the relationship between the rookie and the veteran he replaced in San Francisco.
"He's like family," Molina said. "He's a great kid, a humble kid, with a lot of talent. I worked with him and taught him things, just like everybody else I've been around. I take care of the kids."
Even if it eventually costs him his job.
In no small part because of the direction and support he received from Molina, who was the Giants' durable and productive receiver for three seasons and part of a fourth, Posey arrived swiftly. It became clear early this season that there would be no holding Buster back. His bat and defensive skills were off the charts. He simply had to play.
Molina -- World Series champion, two-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner, highly respected clutch hitter and team leader -- became expendable.
The Rangers wisely made their move, bringing the 36-year-old to Texas on July 1 for right-handers Chris Ray and Michael Main.
"The Rangers just got better," Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Molina's mentor from 1993 through 2004, said that day. "Bengie's head is as good as any I've been around. He knows how to catch and he knows how to lead, and he's a clutch hitter. He's a winner."
In his three full seasons as the Giants' catcher, Molina averaged 137 games, 18 homers and 85 RBIs. He's a .274 career hitter, fairly remarkable given that he's never been known for legging out hits.
Molina was not an instant hit, at least statistically, with the Rangers. He struggled at the plate as he focused on developing a rapport with the pitching staff -- always priority No. 1 for a student at Scioscia University.
Gradually, as Scioscia predicted, it all came together for Molina and his new team, which responded to the man from Puerto Rico.
"Bengie's a winner," veteran reliever Darren Oliver said. "He's done it all. Nothing bothers the guy. You need someone who's cool back there, who doesn't panic -- and Bengie's as cool as it gets. He's had a big impact here on a lot of guys."
Like Molina, outfielder Jeff Francoeur was a late-season acquisition, from the Mets, by general manager Jon Daniels. Francoeur has paid dividends with his bat, his glove, his arm and his attitude.
"Bengie is huge," Francoeur said. "He won a World Series. He knows how to handle a pitching staff. He's calm and relaxed all day."
Admitting to a sense of rejection when the trade was made, Molina got over it and moved on in his typically upbeat manner.
"Now I see how it's all worked out for the best," Molina said. "The Giants had what they wanted, and [Posey] is doing the job. He's got a great future.
"I'm with a great team, an unbelievable team. We stick together. There's nothing better than going out and knowing you're playing with a real team. You don't have any pressure; you don't worry. When you're on a team with character, you know you're going to go out and give it your best shot."
Molina caught every postseason game for the champion Angels of 2002, guiding rookie John Lackey through the decisive Game 7 of the World Series and infusing confidence in another raw rookie, Francisco Rodriguez.
One thing Molina won't do is compare these Rangers with those Angels. It's too soon for that.
"Nobody's predicting anything," Molina said. "Let's see what happens. I kind of like that we're flying under the radar. That's good. Let them talk about everybody else."
Molina began to develop his reputation as a clutch hitter that October in 2002, driving in crucial runs against the Yankees, Twins and Giants.
When he singled home Francoeur for a two-run lead in the second inning of Game 1, he raised his postseason average with runners in scoring position to .400 in 20 at-bats.
"I'm not afraid of anything," he said. "I'm not afraid of failure. You can't be that way in this game, because there's so much failure involved. You have to have the attitude that you're going to come back and get 'em next time."
Posey drew strength from Molina in San Francisco, just as Bengie's catching brothers, Jose and Yadier, had as kids growing up in Rio Piedras, P.R.
All three Molinas have earned World Series rings, giving big brother immense satisfaction.
"I've done my part as a teacher," Bengie said, grinning.
He's too smart to get ahead of himself, but you know the big guy would love to meet his latest protégé, the young Mr. Posey, in another Fall Classic in a few weeks.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.