Waino spectacular with CG on 39th birthday

Playing in 2,000th game, Yadi catches longtime batterymate's gem

August 30th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- When beat a speedy Delino DeShields to first base for the first out of the eighth inning on Sunday afternoon, Yadier Molina let out a laugh. From right field, Dexter Fowler was impressed.

“That’s not too bad for 39,” Molina said.

Neither was Wainwright’s pitching performance. On his 39th birthday, Wainwright turned back the clock, pitching a complete game in the Cardinals’ 7-2 win over the Indians at Busch Stadium. He allowed two runs in his first career start against Cleveland, snapping the Cardinals’ four-game losing streak and ending the 12-game homestand with a needed victory.

Behind the plate was Molina, playing in his 2,000th career game. There are only two Cardinals who have played more for the club: Hall of Famers Stan Musial (3,026) and Lou Brock (2,289).

The veteran catcher singled in the Cardinals’ four-run second inning -- a needed offensive outburst after going 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position in Saturday’s extra-innings loss -- for his 1,981st career hit, moving him past Red Schoendienst for sixth all time in Cardinals history. He singled in another run in the eighth inning for his 1,982nd hit.

“Just a great honor just to be on that list,” Molina said. “I would love to have Red right here and give him a hug, but I know anywhere he is, he’s watching this and is happy for me. It’s a great moment and I’m going to enjoy it.”

Like he has been for most of the past 15 years, Molina was Wainwright’s steady backstop on Sunday, catching every plunging curveball and fastball on the edge of the zone. Molina said he couldn’t sleep last night, too excited to catch his “brother” on his birthday. When left fielder Dylan Carlson caught the final out, Wainwright and Molina met in the middle of the field -- with their masks on -- and hugged.

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“Put the mask on, give a hug,” Wainwright said. “I know six feet apart is the real deal, but there is not anything in the world that could have kept me from hugging Yadier Molina right there.”

It was the 23rd complete game of Wainwright’s career and his first since July 16, 2016, against the Marlins. Since then, he had two injury-riddled years before returning to form last season. There was a time in 2018 when he didn’t know if he’d be able to pitch again. That’s why Sunday was so special, and before meeting with the media over Zoom, he said he had a “cry break.”

“When you think you’re done three years ago, and you’re able to throw a complete game a couple years later, it’s crazy life, crazy game, and I’m so blessed,” Wainwright said. “I just went into the batting cage and thanked God for the opportunity to even be out there, much less pitch the whole game.”

With every inning, Wainwright got better. After giving up a two-run home run in the second inning, he allowed just three more hits the rest of the way. He struck out nine batters, and six of those were caught looking.

Wainwright (3-0) is unbeaten this year and has been the anchor of the team since its return from a COVID-19 outbreak. In the Cardinals’ first game back, he got them through five innings in a seven-inning doubleheader game. He had back-to-back seven-inning outings before Sunday and once again gave the bullpen relief as the Cardinals navigate their challenging and packed schedule.

After two taxing games this series against the Indians, Wainwright texted manager Mike Shildt on Saturday night with three words: “I got you.”

“That was the first text I got after the game yesterday,” Shildt said. “He’s a legend for a reason. The legend continues to grow.”

Wainwright’s season has not seemed like a player finishing his career. In five starts, he’s pitched 34 innings while allowing 22 hits and 10 earned runs. At each turn, he’s delivered when the Cardinals needed him.

“That’s what aces do,” Shildt said. “That’s exactly what aces do. Aces take the ball, deliver when you need it. He said, ‘We know the bullpen’s short -- really short -- and I’m going to step up. I’m not only going to give you innings, I’m going to give you quality innings,’ and the offense supported him. That’s what aces do.”

Both Molina and Wainwright are in the final year of their contracts with the Cardinals. The two have defined the past decade and a half for St. Louis. Molina has said he wants to play for another two years at least, while Wainwright says he’s only focused on this season.

Will they be on the field together on Wainwright’s 40th birthday?

“We talked about it,” Wainwright said. “Hopefully, they have us back here. Hopefully, we got a few more years in this -- win some games, win some World Series here. I’m living one day at a time. But I know when I’m out there, I love pitching to No. 4. He’s my brother, my friend, and I’m just very spoiled to be able to pitch to him.”