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Hochman: Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, set to tie MLB record, link history

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In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman celebrates the 324th start of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina by looking back at their first start together. Also, a happy birthday shoutout to Lars Nootbaar! And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

Long before he was immortalized in Cooperstown and bronzed in front of Busch Stadium, Ted Simmons was just a boy who wanted to be a catcher. Well, a catcher, sure, but specifically one catcher.

“In Detroit, Bill Freehan was the guy, in the way that Molina, today, is the guy,” said the legendary Cardinals catcher Simmons, 73, who still resides in St. Louis.

On a May Tuesday in 1963, the rookie Freehan caught a kid making his first start. A lefty named Mickey Lolich. The game was the first of 324 that Lolich and Freehan would both start for the Tigers. The battery mates became icons in Detroit. Lolich, I begrudgingly bring up in the St. Louis newspaper, won the MVP of the 1968 World Series. And Freehan won seven Gold Gloves while making 11 All-Star Games.

“I listened to the Tigers on the radio every night,” said Simmons, who turned 14 in the summer of 1963. “It was radio and box scores and collecting cards. Hopefully you got a Detroit Tiger in one of the packs you bought. ... Every kid in my neighborhood aspired to be a major-league player. I ended up being the lucky one.

“By the time I was 14, I was pretty well-known as an athlete around the metropolitan Detroit area. Scouts back then could latch you up and take you to the ballgame and sit you down and impress you the best way they could.

“I went down to Tiger Stadium one time with one of the scouts, Lou D’Annunzio — and he introduced me to Freehan in the Tiger dugout. And he gave me one of his old gloves! I certainly remember that and was absolutely stark-raving crazy with joy when it happened.”

By 1968, the fast-tracked Simmons himself was a major-league catcher. He was a 19-year-old St. Louis Cardinals rookie, sitting in the dugout during the World Series against his boyhood heroes.

In 1972 and 1973, both Freehan and Simmons were All-Star catchers.

And in September of 1975, Lolich and Freehan were battery mates for the final time. Three-hundred-and-twenty-four starts. Most-ever by a pitcher and a catcher.

It was one of those records, especially with the dawn of free agency, that looked like it would never be matched.

And now, 47 Septembers later, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina are set to tie the record on Thursday. Cardinals-Nationals, 12:15 p.m. at Busch Stadium.

It’s an astonishing feat, one that encapsulates what makes each Cardinal great — talent and a dedication to St. Louis, as well as longevity and a little luck.

And after those teenage summers watching Lolich and his hero Freehan, Simmons has spent dozens of summer nights watching Yadi and Waino — experiencing Yadi and Waino.

They made their first start together on April 6, 2007, a season after they made postseason history — defeating Detroit for the World Series title.

“Like Lolich and Freehan, these guys post up,” Simmons said. “You know what I mean by that — they’re there every fifth day, they’re there every night.

“As for the record, you can say, ‘Well, a guy (on another team) was unlucky. He was injured. And he wasn’t lucky enough — or otherwise he would have broken that record.’ But you don’t get to look at it like that. You either post up or you don’t. If you post up in the way that Yadi has, in the way that Wainwright has, these things happen to you.

“A lot of times, trust me, Freehan and Lolich, along with Molina and Wainwright, went to the post when maybe they shouldn’t have, because injuries were such that maybe their skill set that night might have been seriously, physically impaired. But then went anyway. Not because they were after some sort of record, but because their integrity to their team and to their teammates and to their city was such that they felt: it’s better that I go out there for our team and everybody, as opposed to sitting.”

Wainwright and Molina are forever linked in St. Louis. They’re in the highlight from Shea Stadium. They’re walking together in stride from the bullpen. They’re the names on the jerseys of so many fans. They’re in your fondest memories. And this year, Molina’s last, they’re on socks, hats and beer cans.

And someday, they’re going to be Cardinals Hall of Famers.

And they’re heroes to boys and girls who want to play ball, who want to be them. They’re connected to this generation of St. Louis kids the way Lolich and Freehan were connected to Simmons’ generation of Detroit kids. That’s a special thing. Time-honored.

“And so in each one of those four players, they went out there, they posted up no matter what,” Simmons said of the two batteries. “That’s why that foursome ends up meeting at the crossroads here.”

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses Albert Pujols’ chase of 696 homers, while recalling this day in 1998, when Mark McGwire hit his record-tying 61st home run. Also, a happy birthday shoutout to Jason Isringhausen. And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

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