ST. LOUIS — A Cardinals offense that had been bizarrely feast or famine over the past two weeks was so downright potent in a six-inning flurry on Sunday night that it even overshadowed a historical accomplishment of batterymates Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.
However, one thing the offensive fireworks couldn’t overmatch was the first pitching performance of the 22-year career of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, who closed out the feel-good night for the Cardinals on the mound with mixed results and plenty of laughs.
Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Molina homered, Pujols reached base five times and comically made the first pitching appearance of his career and 10 Cardinals had hits in a 15-6 pummeling of the Giants before a nationally televised ESPN audience and delighted fans at Busch Stadium.
That victory allowed Wainwright and Molina to become the winningest starting battery in AL/NL history. The 40-year-old Wainwright and the 39-year-old Molina, teammates for 18 seasons, registered their 203rd victory as a starting battery — one more than the 202 Warren Spahn and Del Crandall had from 1949-63. Afterward, Wainwright and Molina were put into laundry carts, wheeled into the showers and doused with various drinkable liquids.
“Everything with me is about winning and to make this possible for us tonight, it was awesome,” said Molina, who had his hardest-hit home run since tracking began and a season-best four RBIs.
Added Wainwright: “That was amazing. We totally forgot about it, but [manager] Oli [Marmol] came up the stairs and said it and we were like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s kind of cool.’ Then they put us in the shower, and we were covered in Cherry Coke and almond milk. If the offense wants to get 17 hits for me every single time I pitch, I’m OK with [the record getting overshadowed].”
The biggest laughs of the night came in the ninth inning when Pujols spoke up and volunteered to pitch as Marmol was contemplating using a position player to close the lopsided game. Pujols received cheers with every strike thrown and fans chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” when he nearly induced a game-ending double-play grounder on a 54 mph fastball. However, Pujols — the owner of 681 career home runs — surrendered home runs to Luis González and Joey Bart.
“That was a dream come true and now I can say I did it and it was fun,” Pujols said. “It wasn’t fun giving up two bombs, but I think the fans had a good time and I’m sure the guys who took me deep did, too.”
Not only did the Cardinals set season highs in runs (15) and hits (17), they took two of three games from San Francisco and won their first series since April 22-24 in Cincinnati. During that time, St. Louis had gone 0-2-3 in series and that was largely the product of a lagging offense. Prior to topping the Giants on Saturday and Sunday, St. Louis had averaged four more runs in their wins (6.2) than in their losses (2.2) and their batting average splits in those games was nearly 100 points apart.
On Sunday, the Cardinals took out some frustration by attacking Giants starter Carlos Rodón early in counts. Entering Sunday, Rodon had not allowed a home run and had not surrendered a first-pitch hit all season. Goldschmidt (two-run home run), Pujols (double) and Molina (single) all did damage on first pitches in the opening inning, one that yielded four runs for the Cardinals.
“We wanted to be aggressive with opportunities with men on base, and that’s what we did,” said Pujols, whose two hits allowed him to draw within one hit of moving into the top 10 in AL/NL history in that statistical category. “We executed the game plan that we took up there.”
Molina, who has started to play his best baseball following a late arrival to Spring Training and a slow start, finished with two hits and four RBIs. His 417-foot home run in the fifth inning left the bat at 107.8 miles per hour and it elicited a hearty hug from Pujols and a noisy curtain call from the Busch Stadium crowd. Pujols, the only remaining Cardinal who was around when Molina and Wainwright broke into the Major Leagues, said his greatest joy is seeing the success that two of his best friends have accomplished.
“We play this game for so long, but at the end of the day and the end of a career, it’s about the relationships you built,” Pujols said. “We always say that records are meant to be broken, but I don’t know about that one because it will be tough. To have one catcher and one pitcher like that for that long, I don’t think that’s going to be possible. What they have accomplished, I’m so happy to be a part of it and see them accomplish it. It’s pretty awesome.”