While Cardinal Nation held its collective breath over the past week–the final week St. Louis had to work out an extension for Yadier Molina before the veteran catcher was to shut down talks for the summer–Adam Wainwright wasn’t worried. The second-longest tenured Cardinal–after Yadi, of course–says he was confident all along the team would do what it took to keep Molina around.
“I never thought of it,” Wainwright said of possibly throwing to a different catcher every fifth day next season. “Because I knew he was going to sign back. I just had a great feeling that they were going to come together and get something done. And they did.”
Molina and Wainwright are forever a duo, etched in history by the buckling knees of Carlos Beltran and a wicked whiff by Brandon Inge. Wainwright’s legacy will always be tied to Molina’s, and vice versa.
“He’s been a part of four World Series, two winners,” Wainwright began, listing the numerous qualities that make Molina a player worth keeping around for a full career. “He’s been a part of big moments–hit the game-winning home run in the 2006 NLCS. He’s no doubt shepherded our pitchers over the years. I just think he’s such a clutch performer–he’s the guy that no pitcher wants to face in the big moment. He always has been.”
Wainwright doesn’t really know what that’s like, facing Molina in the big moment. He’s been on the same side of battle as Molina for his entire major league career. But Wainwright did share an anecdote from someone who would know what it’s like to be on the other side of the field from the seven-time All-Star backstop.
“I asked Dexter (Fowler) earlier in spring training, like ‘Who did you want to face, and who did you not want to face?’” Wainwright said. “And he goes ‘We never wanted to face Yadier in those big moments, because we just felt like he was always going to get it done.’ He’s the guy that we look to. He’s the guy that our pitchers always lean on, and our position players, too. He’s just a stud.”
Molina’s extension announcement aligning with opening day in St. Louis was interesting timing–a day that couldn’t be any bigger than it already is somehow found a way to be just a smidge more exciting for Cardinals fans.
“I’m very excited to see it,” Wainwright said of the reaction Molina would receive in his first at-bat since the extension was announced. “I think it’s very deserved because he’s been a great, great player for this franchise. He’s a winning player, he’s our friend, and he’s our teammate. We want to see him get the due that we’re expecting–and our Cardinal fans are the greatest, so they’ll give it to him.”
Wainwright was right. Molina received a standing ovation before his first at-bat of the season, in which the star catcher ripped a single up the middle. For the day, Molina went 2-3 and in the ninth, earned the first-ever MLB intentional walk that didn’t require a pitch be thrown. It was just the kind of night that justified John Mozeliak’s reluctance to refer to Molina’s new contract as a ‘legacy deal.’
“I don’t want people to think this is sort of a sunset, because my expectations are still very high from a performance standpoint,” Mozeliak said before the game. “He is someone that we still expect to be an elite performer. When you hear that word ‘legacy,’ it’s almost like you’re on the downside of your career. I feel like where he is physically and where he is mentally, he still wants to contribute in a big way.”
And the Cardinals will need him to do so, if they are going to challenge for a playoff spot in the top-heavy National League this season. On the day of Molina’s extension, Wainwright conveyed his belief in that being an attainable goal for this year’s club.
“We’ve talked about this a million times already, it’s time to start playing ball,” Wainwright began on why this team is better suited for success than last year’s version. “I think one thing (Molina) acknowledged is the chemistry is better, the attitudes in there–there’s something prove for everybody. We need to go do it now.”
They did it in game one, downing the Cubs in dramatic fashion. The next time the Cardinals take the field, it will again be Wainwright and Molina forming the battery–with plenty left to prove.