Molina excited to reunite with Albert for final season

March 28th, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- Yadier Molina was always there when Albert Pujols was starring for the Cardinals, when Pujols was winning three MVPs and helping the franchise capture two World Series titles. And Molina was nearby when Pujols came back to St. Louis -- first, with the Angels, and last season with the Dodgers -- and received a hero’s welcome from an adoring fanbase willing to forget the two sides’ separation from more than a decade earlier.

Molina’s “brotherhood” with the 42-year-old Pujols – his word on Monday morning -- never ended, but Molina always doubted he would ever get to play alongside of the future Hall of Famer again because, well, the business of baseball.

All that changed late Sunday night, when Pujols agreed to a one-year deal, according to a source, that will reunite him with Molina, longtime pitcher Adam Wainwright and a Cardinals franchise that he starred for from 2001-11 while making nine All-Star Games and stringing together a 10-year stretch of hitting at least .300 with 30 home runs.

No one, other than maybe Pujols, was happier about the news than Molina, who shared a playful FaceTime call with his former teammate in the Cardinals' clubhouse on Monday morning. New manager Oliver Marmol and bench coach Skip Schumaker -- a former teammate of Pujols’ in St. Louis -- playfully joined in on some of the call and shared laughs.

“I talked to him just now, and one other time. I was kind of hoping for this, and now we go,” said Molina, who is scheduled to make his Spring Training debut later today while catching Wainwright against the Astros. “Any time you have a player like Albert, with what he brings to the clubhouse, it’s great. By the phone, he told me [he'd signed]. He’s happy to be here and I’m glad everything worked out for him.”

Pujols’ signing with the Cardinals should be official following his passing of a physical later today. Molina said Pujols is scheduled to be at the Cardinals' Spring Training headquarters in Jupiter today.

Pujols left the Cardinals not long after winning a title in 2011 to sign a 10-year, $240 million free-agent deal with the Angels. However, he was not close to being the elite difference maker in Southern California that he had been in St. Louis, and he earned just one All-Star berth during his time with the Angels. He was designated for assignment last May and ended up signing with the Dodgers, where he hit .254 with 12 home runs in 85 games.

That rebirth of production was all the proof that Molina needed to see that Pujols still has plenty to offer a team in need of production from the DH slot and off the bench late in games against left handed pitchers. Pujols hit 445 home runs with the Cardinals, and he will head into this season just 21 home runs shy of 700 for his star-studded career.

“Well, he’s still got it,” Molina said with conviction. “I don’t know how Oli [Marmol] is going to use him, but with a player like Albert, when you’re putting him in the lineup, he’s going to have an impact. Just that name is an impact for any lineup.

“He’s in great shape and his mentality is good, and I can’t wait to have him here,” Molina added.

Molina said he and Pujols stayed in touch throughout their years apart, and that they talked twice this offseason. Assuredly, the two of them talked of the days back in St. Louis when Pujols was establishing himself as one of the game’s premier power hitters and Molina was winning four of his nine Gold Gloves as a catcher. Quietly, both hoped for a reunion in St. Louis, but doubted it would ever materialize because of the business side of baseball.

“At first, I doubted it because of the business,” said Molina, who is in his 19th and final season with the Cardinals after announcing his imminent retirement late last season. “But after a couple of weeks before [Spring Training], I was like, ‘Maybe we have a chance.’ I’m glad that we did and I’m glad they made it happen.”

Molina said that Pujols will fit right in with a Cardinals team that is focused on trying to add a 12th World Series title for the franchise.

“Like I said, he’s happy to be here,” Molina said. “We’ve got only one thing in mind -- winning another championship together.”