Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina: St. Louis Cardinal Royalty
The picture tells it all. St. Louis Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina (affectionately known as Yadi) leaping into Adam Wainwright's (Waino to Cardinal Nation) arms as Waino's arms are flung towards heaven, celebrating the final out of the 2006 World Series. Waino, just a young buck then, had come out of the bullpen to close out the final game of the Series. Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers swung and missed a third strike slider, leaving the tying and go ahead runs on base. With that swing, the championship was won and the Cardinals had a Dynamic Duo they came to count on for the next decade.
Now that decade is coming to a close, the warriors have battled injuries and Father Time, and the contracts of each are expiring. This year might be the final curtain call for two of the greatest Cardinals of all time.
Yadier Molina: By The Numbers
Yadi was born in Puerto Rico and is the baby of the Molina family. He and his brothers Benjie and Jose, collectively known as "The Catching Molina Brothers" have made the Major Leagues their own for the better part of two decades, with them being the only trio of brothers to have a World Series Championship ring. Yadi, in particular, has become the gold standard for defense while wearing the tools of ignorance. An eight time Gold Glove winner (eight in a row), seven time All Star (again, consecutive years) four time Platinum Award winner and also a Silver Slugger award winner, he is considered by many to be the best defensive catcher of all time. His partnership with future fellow Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in picking napping runners off first base is legendary, but it is his partnership with Cardinal pitcher Adam Wainwright that is my focus today.
His catching ability was seen at a very young age, when he was selected to play for an amateur league team in Puerto Rico at the age of 15 years. Playing with men ten years older, he quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with. MLB teams such as Minnesota and Cincinnati looked hard at the young Molina, who impressed with his ability and arm but lagged behind as a hitter. Nonetheless, St. Louis drafted him in the fourth round of the 2000 draft. By the next year, then current Cardinal catcher (and current manager) Mike Matheny went home and told his wife "I saw the kid that's going to steal my job." . This from a man who would win four Gold Gloves and catch an astonishing 252 games without an error.
Matheny was injured mid-season 2003 and left after the 2004 season. Molina became the man in Matheny's absence. His pitch framing ability is second to none, to the point that some feel that the umpire can and has taken his cue on whether a pitch is a ball or strike from Molina and his reaction to the pitch. Coaches and Managers alike trust his ability to call a game like no other.
His defensive abilities may be on display for all to see but it is his offensive ability that frequently catch people by surprise. A sneaky fast runner who has often taken advantage of a napping pitcher and stolen second base, Yadi is a tough out when batting. He has some power and has over a hundred home runs to his credit, but it is his acceptance of the outside pitch being taken to right field for a single that is, what I consider, his intelligence over many hitters. He does exactly enough with such a pitch, driving it hard between the first and second baseman in a line drive, thus moving a runner along or driving in a runner from second or third. His value as a hitter is vastly underrated by many.
But his true value to the team lies in his leadership on the field. His eyes never stop moving as he constantly looks over the field, taking in defensive adjustments and calling a pitch to take advantage of such. In 2015 he led the pitching staff of John Lackey, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha to some excellent numbers, including an ERA under 3.00 and a WIP of 1.20. The team's ground ball rate was one that had to be seen to be believed as this staff led the Card's to a 100 win season despite not having what one would call a great offensive year.
He is now 34 years of age, old for a Major League catcher and his contract will expire after this season. Hopefully, St. Louis will sign him to an extension, keeping as a member of the team until he retires. Usually as one ages in sports their skills and health deteriorate but Yadi continues to defy the odds, catching a career high number of games last year (147) while batting .307. Looks to me like he has found the fountain of youth. Here's to you Yadi, and a few more years of seeing you in a Cardinal uniform while teaching this young staff a thing or two about how to play the game.
Adam Wainwright: "Waino" and his "Uncle Charlie"
Waino may not be a born and bred Cardinal but he has become, along with Yadi, the lifeblood of this team. Drafted by his home team Atlanta Braves in the first round, he was traded to the Cardinals for then outfielder J.D. Drew, who was a five tool player in his own right. Time has gone on to judge Drew as a lesser player in the trade, making the Cardinals look rather good in the deal.
Thrust into the spotlight as an emergency closer in 2006 after then closer Jason Isringhausen had season ending surgery in September, he led the team to the playoffs, then to a championship with his ability to close out a game. Filled with a love for the game like few others, Adam is consistently upbeat to all, open to interviews and seems to rarely take himself too seriously, preferring to give others at least their due and joking with teammates and journalists alike.
But on the mound, make no mistake: he is a competitor with a capital C. Over the years his mid 90's heater has lost some of its zip but his ability to find the corners and place a pitch just so combined with one of the nastiest curveballs in the business (ol' Uncle Charlie) has allowed him to continue to be a leader on this team. Now 35 years of age, Father Time is trying to bring him back to earth and threatens to send him to the Old Pitcher's Home for good. His contract runs through the end of next season so we should get to enjoy him this year and next but who can say what the future holds. He has suffered through season ending Tommy John surgery and an Achilles injury that was supposed to keep him out of a uniform for a year, yet he made a miraculous comeback to help the Cards to the playoffs in 2015. 2016 was not a great year for Waino but he still competes at a high level and I expect nothing less from him for the next couple of years.
He is an accomplished hitter (for a pitcher) and had a home run on the very first pitch he saw way back in his rookie season. He also has more RBI's than most other pitcher in the DH era, and has even been used as a pitch hitter at times. He has started 254 games with an ERA of 3.17 over his eleven years in the big leagues while garnering a record of 134-76 in that time. Between 2009 and 2014 he was a Cy Young contender, finishing in the top three four times. He is an excellent fielder as well, having a mere seven errors over almost 400 chances while pitching for the Cardinals.
Yadi and Waino have played together for in excess of a decade, combining their love and talents for an amazing 217 games together eclipsing the record previously held by Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver. They will add to that record this season and with a little luck (and Cardinal sense) next season. From there, who knows. Maybe the duo will hang up their cleats after that year, ending a tremendous run that includes World Championships, awards and a friendship which has been a pleasure to view. Whatever the future holds, it will be an honor to watch them as they play out their storied careers and hopefully it will end with a retirement in the uniform they have made their own for over a decade together.