Yadi heating up for his final playoff push

September 4th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- Earlier in the week, when Yadier Molina was scheduled to have a night off from catching, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol approached the veteran just minutes before the first pitch as if he was giving him a scouting report to use against hitters.

This time, however, Marmol’s message was more motivational than tactical.

With Molina in the throes of one of his worst hitless skids of the season, the rookie manager wanted his veteran catcher to know he still had complete confidence in him and that big things were ahead as the moments got bigger down the stretch.

Like clockwork, just as the calendar flipped from August to September, the 40-year-old Molina seems to have found a new energy to finish what will be the final season of his 19-year career. Molina followed up his two-hit effort on Friday with two more hits on Saturday, including a bases-clearing three-run double that broke open the Cardinals’ 8-4 victory over the Cubs. With the Busch Stadium crowd still chanting, “Yadi! Yadi! Yadi!” following arguably his biggest hit of the season, Molina proceeded to steal third, tag up and score and draw another boisterous ovation.

“This is the way I worded it -- I’m betting on him in September,” Marmol said of his motivational speech to Molina. “He knows what’s at stake. He smells it. And I would never bet against Yadi in a high-stakes environment.

“There’s just a level of intensity that September brings, and he’s experienced it so many times and he knows this is his last one. You’d be stupid to bet against him.”

Molina said the unwavering confidence placed in him by Marmol meant the world to him at the time, especially as he was struggling through an 0-for-21 skid at one point.

“The confidence that he brings to the players is amazing,” Molina said.

In addition to his work at the plate, Molina also helped Adam Wainwright and himself move to the precipice of history. Saturday’s game was the 323rd start of their careers as batterymates, bringing them within one start of tying the MLB record set by Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan of the Tigers. If all goes well, Molina and Wainwright will establish themselves as the most durable battery in history on Thursday against the Nationals. With 212 team wins in their starts, Wainwright and Molina are already the most successful battery in history.

Wainwright earned his 10th win to give him 12 seasons with double-digit victories, second in franchise history only to Bob Gibson’s 14. However, the night was anything but easy for Wainwright, who allowed three first-inning runs and was lifted after five innings -- a decision that upset him. As it turns out, it was Molina who suggested the struggling 41-year-old pitcher should be pulled because of his lack of command.

“I think Yadier told them, ‘Get this guy out of there because he stinks today,’” said Wainwright, who yielded four runs on nine hits. “I knew what my stuff looked like, but it also could have been better if I made a pitch here or there. It wasn’t great, and I understood [getting pulled], but I wanted them to know I could have gone one more. I could have and should have gone six, but we won the game. If you win the game with your pitcher looking like that on the mound, you’ve done something.”

Molina said afterward that the best thing about approaching the MLB record for starts among batterymates is that he is doing it with a player he considers “a brother.” That tight bond allows them to be honest with one another -- even when the other doesn’t necessarily like what he’s hearing.

“Don’t talk to me today about Waino because he’s mad at me,” Molina said before breaking out into a laugh. “I was [honest with the coaches about Wainwright], and he didn’t like it, but we had to turn the page. He knows that I love him, but I’m always going to be honest with him and the team. When you don’t have your best and you still go five innings, that’s amazing and it tells you how good he is.”

With a scheduled day off for Molina on Sunday, he realized late Saturday that he likely has played his final game against the Cubs. If it is the end, Molina will have hit .285 with 48 doubles, 18 home runs, 118 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 247 games against the Cardinals’ biggest rivals.

“It’s been fun for the 19 years competing against the Cubs,” Molina said. “They had some good teams, and they had some bad teams. But it’s been fun.”