When Adam Wainwright faced Yadier Molina for the first time, he took the mound and stared him down. In a 2003 matchup between the Greenville Braves and the Tennessee Smokies, Molina sneered at the plate rather than behind it. The catcher went 1-for-3 against his future battery mate and best friend. Neither of their younger versions knew what was in store for them back then. From singing country music on the team bus to multiple World Series appearances.
A legacy in St. Louis Cardinals lore, linking them together for the rest of time.
“You start as a teammate with someone, then you learn how to be friends. Then after a while what happens is, you’ve played with somebody for so long that you don’t even know what it would look like without him there,” Wainwright said in a 2019 interview with MLB.com.
It Started on a Backfield in Jupiter
It was that fateful day in December of 2003 when the Cardinals traded for Wainwright. The stars aligned and history began being made. The 6’7 right-hander was shipped from his hometown Atlanta organization in exchange for two veterans, JD Drew and Eli Marrero. It was a day Wainwright will never forget in his career and with his personal life. When he received the phone call that he had been traded, he was proposing to his future wife.
The Cardinals invited both young stars to the big league camp the following spring. Wainwright threw his first bullpen in the spring to catcher, and his future manager, Mike Matheny. The next was to Molina, on a backfield in Jupiter away from the bright lights and glory that awaited them. Two kids going from opponents to brothers with the first pitch thrown. The duo became a battery that same year in Triple-A Memphis, thus creating one of the most genuine, enduring, and eclectic relationships in the modern era of Major League Baseball. Fans of St. Louis are fortunate to have such a bond within their favorite team. This is something not many fans can say in our modern era of Major League Baseball.
Molina’s MLB debut came on June 3, 2004, at the age of 21 against the Pittsburgh Pirates due to Matheny going to the IL. Immediately, he made an impact with the team, throwing out more than 50% percent of would-be base-stealers in his first year. The following offseason, veteran catcher Matheny signed with San Francisco — leaving the starting role to Yadi. His other half in Wainwright was sidelined with an elbow strain and waited until September 11, 2005 against the New York Mets at 24 years old for his debut. He went on to make the Cardinals’ 2006 Opening Day roster as a relief pitcher after having been a starter for his entire minor-league career.
A World Series to Remember
In 2006, everything changed when closer Jason Isringhausen’s season ended due to hip surgery. Wainwright, who had been used as a middle reliever was pushed into the closer role. Saving two crucial games in September, St. Louis held off the Houston Astros‘ late charge for the division.
Uncle Charlie, as many nicknamed him, closed out the final game of the Cardinals’ National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres. Unquestionably, this propelled the team to the NLCS in which Wainwright’s iconic strikeout of Carlos Beltran in Game 7 sent the Cardinals to the World Series. Like Wainwright, Molina played a vital role in Beltran striking out. Calling for a mound conference, the third-year catcher wanted a sinker from Wainwright but changed his mind because he suspected Wainwright would overthrow it and give Beltran an easy pitch to hit. Molina made an unconventional choice by calling for a changeup to start the sequence. If it hadn’t worked out, this story would be quite different.
Wainwright went on to pitch in Game 5 of the World Series, striking out Detroit Tiger third baseman Brandon Inge with his slider to win the title. After the win, Wainwright, who threw a curveball for strike three to win the pennant and a slider to Inge to win the Series, joked that he would never throw those two pitches ever again. Spoiler: he did.
Possibly One Last Ride for the Battery
Today, Wainwright will toe the rubber with Molina behind the dish for the sixth time at Busch Stadium’s Opening Day. For the first time since 2019, fans will be attending in St. Louis, a sight that Wainwright and Molina have missed greatly. The stadium will be welcoming fans at 32% capacity despite the ongoing pandemic. Through blood, sweat, and tears, Wainwright has ultimately earned this deserved recognition to start. After all, it was Waino that led the Cardinals to a win in St. Louis’ first game back from its ghastly COVID-19 outbreak.
While both have already cemented their legacies, neither has given up on what makes them so great. Both men have shown spectators and opponents that father time isn’t stopping them any time soon. Molina has continued with head-turning throws to toss out runners, hitting home runs, and still stands tall in a bench-clearing brawl. Wainwright, despite having a rough first start in Cincinnati, is still the team’s backbone. The 39-year-old ceded six runs across just 2 2/3 innings, which gave the team starters 12 earned runs allowed in their first two games of the season.
As the Clydesdales gallop throughout Busch, the unbreakable battery of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina will take it all in. Whether it’s the first time for the last time or just another notch in their legacy since 2004. Importantly, Molina’s contract for one-year/$9M will allow him to be a free agent once more in the offseason. His battery-mate will also ride the free agency train in the offseason after signing a one-year/ $8M deal for 2021.
Photos by Jimmy Simmons and Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on IG)