December 3, 2022

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After 307 games together, Waino and Yadi still make each other laugh

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MIAMI — Seconds after Adam Wainwright used every bit of his 6-foot-7 frame to snag a dribbler of a ground ball and sprint to first base to complete the play on his own, the Cardinals staff ace glanced toward home plate and flashed a smile at catcher Yadier Molina.

If anybody could understand the effort and energy that the 40-year-old Wainwright had exerted on the play, it was the 39-year-old Molina — the pitcher’s teammate for the past 17 seasons and someone who has appeared in 307 games with him as a starting battery.

Wainwright would go on to allow a solo home run after fielding that grounder, but it was his only blemish of the night in an otherwise masterful effort between him and Molina. Wainwright allowed one run and five hits over 5 2/3 innings, and the Cardinals offense made it stand up behind two-hit nights from Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt and Tommy Edman in a 5-1 defeat of the Marlins.

“I caught nine innings and that was good, Albert scored from first and that was good and Waino making that play was good,” Molina marveled. “So, all the old men made plays and that was good.”

In addition to Wainwright and Molina moving into sole possession of third place in career starts as a battery (307), the duo notched their 201st team victory in games in which they appeared together. That means five days from now — Sunday in Cincinnati — they will attempt to equal the MLB record of 202 team wins set by Braves greats Warren Spahn and Del Crandall from 1949-63.

“The battery mark is awesome, but what really speaks volumes to us is winning and that’s the most important stat there is,” said Wainwright, who had curveballs at 63.7, 67.8 and 69.8 mph on Tuesday. “We’ve won a lot of games together and hopefully we win a lot more.”

Tuesday’s win also allowed Molina to move into sole possession of second place in career wins for catchers with 1,192 — one ahead of Carlton Fisk (1,191) and 62 behind MLB leader Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (1,254). Like Wainwright, Molina prides himself on impacting winning with defense and handling pitchers.

“It’s about winning, and our focus is to win games and that’s what we did tonight,” Molina said. “Waino was aggressive in the strike zone and the breaking ball was good and down in the dirt. Any time you see him throwing that breaking ball in the dirt and guys are striking out, you know it’s going to be a good day.”

Molina, who has averaged 120 games caught a season over his 19-year career, was in the lineup for the first time since Thursday when he caught Wainwright’s loss to the Brewers. Molina missed the first week of Spring Training because of a personal matter. Because the camp was already condensed, it didn’t allow him to get in much work. He and manager Oliver Marmol agreed to scale back his action while he works into top form.

“It’s a different time for me. I showed up late [to Spring Training] and I’m trying to get back into shape with my body,” he said. “Obviously, my position is tough, so we are taking it slowly. I feel a lot better than a week ago and I’m ready to go. You want to be a part of the game and be part of the team and helping it win, but it’s hard when you are sitting down.”

Wainwright uncharacteristically walked two batters in the first inning, but he got a lift from his defense when nine-time Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado scooped up a ball near the third-base line and ranged into foul territory before throwing a ball that Goldschmidt laid out for while keeping his foot on the bag. That play ended Miami’s threat in the first and awed Wainwright.

“Nothing is surprising from our defense,” he said of a unit that had an MLB record five Gold Glove winners last season. “That’s why we have the best defense in the league. They are incredible every night.”

Wainwright even pitched in defensively by lunging to snag the dribbler off the bat of Joey Wendle and racing to first base for the unassisted out. What came next had Wainwright chuckling — something he could afford to do in yet another victory for him and Molina.

“I went a long way for that, but you know you’re getting old when everybody on the field tries to give you time to recover,” Wainwright said. “[Goldschmidt] was like, “Take your time!’ Nolan [Arenado] comes over and gets the rosin [bag]. I’m about ready to pitch and Yadi goes and picks up the imaginary piece of clay. That’s probably why I gave up that home run — because they were making me laugh.”

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