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Cardinals' Molina tells the truth as he and Wainwright march toward history

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St. Louis Cardinals face Chicago Cubs

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) trails his batterymate and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) for the 323rd time — one shy of the all-time record before a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, at Busch Stadium. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Besides their being teammates for the past 19 seasons — one at Memphis and 18 in St. Louis — Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright proudly calls catcher Yadier Molina his brother.

“We’ve been through more than just baseball together,” said Wainwright. “Our families grew up together. We grew up together. I always thought I’d have grandkids before he retired. It’s a special thing.”

But, even brothers who are close can have their scuffles, verbal and otherwise. So it was after the Chicago Cubs’ fifth inning Saturday night at Busch Stadium.

Wainwright, pitching mostly on memory, had thrown his second double-play ball in two innings and had amassed only 82 pitches after five innings of the Cardinals’ 8-4 win over Chicago. But nine of those pitches had been struck for base hits, four runners had scored and Wainwright, as he later admitted freely, had nothing.

Manager Oliver Marmol told Wainwright that his night’s work was done. Wainwright said he needed to pitch the sixth to have one decent inning and feel good about himself.

“That’s what I told him,” said Wainwright. “I haven’t used any of my stuff all day. This inning I’m due. This next inning had got to be it, right?”

But, Wainwright, who at one point used the word “stink,” to describe his pitching, added, “I think Yadier told him, ‘Get this guy out of here.'"

This, in fact, basically was the case.

“I knew what my stuff looked like,” said Wainwright, who nonetheless won for the 194th time in his career and reached double figures in wins for the 12th time in his career.

“If you’ve won the game with your pitching looking like that, then you’ve done something,” he said.

Wainwright said his stuff was the worst it’s been all season. “Plain and simple,” he said. “Not good anything.

“Not good command. Not good curveball. Not good cutter. Not good fastball. Not good changeup. But we won the game. That’s important.”

Molina, after the fifth inning, offered to Marmol that Wainwright didn’t have really much and it was time for him to go. “He didn’t like it, but we had to turn the page,” said Molina. “He knows I love him, but I’m always going to be honest with him and the team.

“As a player, you always want to be honest with your manager,” Molina said. “You can’t lie. If you lie, you’re (causing) a lot of trouble.”

According to Marmol a “very sarcastic” conversation had ensued between Marmol and Wainwright and Molina, who joined the debate and lovingly embraced Wainwright before the latter grudgingly left the dugout for the clubhouse.

“He’s mad at me today,” said Molina, laughing. “But when you don’t have your best and go five innings like he did, that’s amazing. That tells you how good he is.”

No matter what anyone’s assessment of Wainwright’s night, there can be no mistaking two key elements. Wainwright and Molina teamed in their 323rd career start together, one off the record set nearly 50 years ago by Detroit’s Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan.

And, Molina who has been carried by his teammates much of the season, is drawing on his late-season history and performing like a thoroughbred and not a plow horse as September has arrived. His manager said that he was “betting on” his future Hall of Famer in the regular season’s last month and into October.

Molina doubled for the second night in succession. He drove in three runs with this one, his first RBIs since Aug. 10. Later in the inning he stole third unopposed, stirring the sellout house into a frenzy. “The full ‘Yadi,’ chant going from 47,000 people, that was pretty neat,” said Wainwright.

The stolen base was the first by a catcher 40 or older since Arizona's Henry Blanco did it in 2012, according to research by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Molina then streaked home on a sacrifice fly. He has stolen more bases, 13, against the Cubs, than any other team. 

“We all knew it was a matter of time,” said Wainwright. “He might be a little older now, a little slower … and a little uglier.

“But we all assume he’s saved his best for down the stretch. We want him up in the big moments. I told him the other day, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re 0 for his last 200, we still want you want up.’’’

Molina said he felt good about the confidence Marmol and others had shown in him. “The team just carried me,” he said. “And they care about me. They want me to do good. I did that today just for them.”

The Cardinals, victors in 25 games of their past 32, got a two-run, first-inning homer from Paul Goldschmidt that cut into a three-run Cubs first. Tommy Edman, who has had extra-base hits in six consecutive games, rapped his 13th homer to tie the game in the third before, two pitches later, Tyler O’Neill untied it with his 13th. Then Molina put the game away.

“He smells it. I would never bet against Yadi in a high-stakes environment,” said Marmol, reputed to be a good poker player in his own right.

“There’s a level of intensity that September brings that he’s experienced. You only get to do it so many times. He knows this is his last one.

“I’m always betting on Yadi when those are the conditions.”

Cardinals relievers Andre Pallante, Jake Woodford, JoJo Romero and Giovanny Gallegos finished up, holding the Cubs to one hit and no runs over the final four innings.

And the Wainwright-Molina battery is chasing history at 323, with a chance to draw even on Thursday against Washington.

“That’s a lot of games,” said Wainwright. “It’s more than everybody but one.

“We look forward to breaking it, honestly. Tying it the next game and then breaking it after that.”

This summer when Molina went home to Puerto Rico for an extended period to rest his ailing knee and maybe to rekindle his spirit, Wainwright said, he was concerned there was a chance the two wouldn’t get a chance to break the record.

“It just depended on how his body recovered and how his mind recovered,” Wainwright said. “I think he knew he’s got more to give. He wants to win a World Series with us this year.”

Molina said he had been frustrated, but mostly he was hurt. “I tried my best. It didn’t work,” he said.

The Cardinals have a magic number of 23 for clinching the National League Central Division and making the postseason. “I like people chasing us,” said Marmol.

But Molina blanches at the word “playoffs.”

“Don’t start,” said Molina, who tied Carlton Fisk at 2,097 for second place (behind Pudge Rodriguez) for games caught. “We’ve got a lot of baseball to play.”

He was just being honest.

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Rick Hummel is a Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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