Waino-Yadi partnership in ranks with legends

September 2nd, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- When the Cardinals open their series against the Brewers on Friday, will throw his first pitch of the game to . It’s a given: If Molina is healthy and Wainwright is pitching, they will start together. They have done so 25 times already this year.

It’s Brunswick, Ga., and Bayamón, Puerto Rico, coming together every five days to play catch. From the mound in Milwaukee, it will mark 300 times -- a milestone only three other sets of batterymates have reached before them. (And a tally that doesn’t include 14 more games started together in the postseason.)

The others? Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan (324 starts). Warren Spahn and Del Crandall (316). Red Faber and Ray Schalk (306).

“It's really a mind-blowing number, for me,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “It speaks to the longevity. It speaks to each of their ability to compete well. It speaks well to the fact they want to stay in an organization for as long as they have. It's really an amazing, amazing accomplishment for both of them.”

That Molina and Wainwright are accomplishing this feat as two individuals in unison is what touches them most. Ask Wainwright about his individual accomplishments, he’ll blush and deflect. Ask Molina about his, he’ll point to the people who simply ensured his health along the way.

“When I look back on my career, when it’s all said and done, I know one of the things I’ll be most excited and proud to say is that I pitched to Yadier Molina for all these years,’” Wainwright said back in 2017.

“I love this man,” Molina said recently. “As a human being. He’s a great teammate, he’s a great person.”

Fans celebrate it; journalists try to depict it. But few can fully appreciate the dynamic, the dependency and connection between two individuals in the heat of battle at the highest level of their sport when there’s a single teammate to rely on for the sole purpose of executing the job.

These are a few of those exceptions:

Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning

Nestled in the jet-black cabinets of Jeff Saturday's home office are old helmets and awards. Elsewhere in the house is his Super Bowl ring and recognitions for being named a Pro Bowler (six times), an All-Pro first-team center (twice), an All-ACC first-teamer (twice) and an Academic All-ACCer (once).

But in the backdrop of his camera shot, broadcast nationally now as an analyst for ESPN, is a framed collage of him and Peyton Manning -- on the field as Colts teammates, in celebratory moments, in the heart of competition, as fresh faces and as more grayed veterans -- that he displays proudly. It’s this that he cherishes most.

That award commemorates a record the duo still holds after passing Minnesota’s Fran Tarkenton and Mick Tingelhoff for the most consecutive starts among a single quarterback-center pairing at 161. The number eventually grew to 170.

“It's an award that goes over [time],” said Saturday, who is also a former high school baseball catcher. “It's not one season, it's not one game. It's not, ‘We did this just one time.’ It was the longevity of sacrifice, of hard work, of trust, of friendship all coming together on the field each and every week.”

Across the four major sports in North America, there may not be a more overt modern-day parallel for Wainwright and Molina than Saturday and Manning. They are champions together. Nearly every enduring memory of them in contest is alongside each other. Their jobs -- hiking the ball, calling out coverages; pitching and calling sequences of pitches -- simply do not function without one another.

Like Molina and Wainwright, who made their MLB debuts in 2004 and ’05, respectively, Manning and Saturday were together almost from the start. The quarterback was drafted in 1998. The Colts added Saturday, an undrafted free agent, the next year.

“The games themselves become irrelevant,” Saturday said. “It’s the relationships and, ‘Do you remember that day that you were sick as a dog, bro, and we got through it?’ Or, ‘Do you remember when you felt that your shoulder was going to fall off or my knee was going to explode, and we still managed to get through this thing?’

“It's who you do it with,” Saturday added, “not what you do.”

There were spats, like the one in a now-viral clip when a red-hot Manning berated Saturday and the offensive line when a goal-line drive went for naught. There were also moments of clairvoyance, when the pair would signal audibles or switch-ups to one another out of just pure recognition of how the opposition lined up -- and recognition of each other.

“I didn't just respect Peyton because he played well on Sunday,” Saturday said. “I respected him, because from Monday to Saturday, he worked his tail off in the weight room, watching film, studying, you name it.”

At the 2012 Pro Bowl, with Manning a Bronco for the AFC squad and Saturday a Packer on the NFC side after their careers diverged, Saturday switched teams for one ceremonial final snap between football’s all-time battery.

Imagine what Busch Stadium might look like, years down the line, when Wainwright and Molina return to throw out a ceremonial first pitch before a postseason game, or after they receive their red jackets together at a future Cardinals Hall of Fame induction ceremony?

“It's those memories that you sit back as boys and are like, ‘Man, how good was this?’ when you're out smoking a cigar or hunting or fishing or whatever you do together, playing golf,” Saturday said. “And you just laugh, man. You just laugh about stuff, and you're just so grateful for the bond and the friendship that you have, because nobody else understands it, right?”

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings

Burned out by the stress and injuries that came with beach volleyball qualifiers for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Misty May-Treanor was ready for a change. She found it through a meeting between her parents and the parents of Kerri Walsh Jennings, then a member of the USA indoor volleyball team, in Sydney’s Olympic Village. Talk of a possible partnership began.

Once they had returned home, May-Treanor invited Walsh Jennings to her home in Southern California to see how she fared on the beach playing surface. Walsh Jennings thought it was a tryout. May-Treanor simply wanted to make sure there was harmony. There was.

The pair did not dominate immediately. They won only a single tournament their first year together in 2001. But as they learned about each other as volleyball players -- and as global travelers, roommates and personalities -- they started to truly hit their stride. They seized World Championship gold in 2003. Next came Olympic gold in Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008) and London (2012).

They remain the only beach volleyball players to have won gold in three consecutive Olympic Games.

“To become the best in the world, you take each failure, and together, collectively, you work on your shortcomings together and work on it together,” said May-Treanor, whose husband, Matt Treanor, was a Major League catcher for nine seasons and teammates with Bengie Molina, Yadier’s brother, in Texas.

Opposites, in this case, attracted. Walsh Jennings was more direct.

“She wants things right away and she wants to get it,” her partner said.

May-Treanor was deliberate and patient. That’s why her nickname -- coined by Walsh Jennings’ husband, also a beach volleyball player -- is “The Turtle.”

While traveling around the world to tournaments, spending hours together on planes and sharing hotel rooms, the teammates learned to give each other what they needed to flourish on the court and grow away from it. They developed non-verbal ticks that spoke volumes when no words were said.

“We're like ninjas … like Jedis,” May-Treanor said. “We could feel where we were on the court just because we've played long enough. It’s like a choreographed dance. You just feel this person because you've been with them, you know how their movement is, you know kind of how they’re feeling that day.”

Familiar with each other through the youth ranks, admirers of one another in their late teens (Walsh Jennings once asked May-Treanor for her autograph), and teammates by their early 20s, the golden pairing is still considered the most accomplished in USA beach volleyball history. They had a telepathic bond on the sand, only to be followed by an unbreakable one away from it.

“We say we grew up together, basically on tour,” May-Treanor said. “We watched each other go through marriages, we watched each other go through boyfriends and different ups and downs, deaths and births, and so much. It’s an honor being recognized with somebody else, because not too many people stay together for that long and stay at the top for so long.”

Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver

“We did it all Bob's way.”

That’s what Tim McCarver accepted. It’s not that he disagreed with Bob Gibson. It’s that he wasn’t allowed to do otherwise.

Gibson had a look. If McCarver called a pitch Gibson didn’t agree with, Gibson simply cocked his head with disapproving lips. It was almost as if to say, “You’re an idiot,” McCarver recalled at the 2017 St. Louis BBWAA Dinner.

“He’d keep on going until he got to the right pitch,” Gibson quipped.

McCarver knows such a relationship two times over. He played 21 years, 12 of which he wore the Birds on the Bat. During that time, he caught 197 of Gibson’s starts. He was also Steve Carlton’s personal catcher, both in St. Louis and Philadelphia. They were batterymates for 228 starts.

But with Gibson, the images are particularly enduring. Gibson threw the last pitches of the 1964 and the ’67 World Series to McCarver. They were in tandem for Gibson’s record-setting 17-strikeout performance in Game 1 of the ’68 World Series, during which Gibson threw three complete games. In the months leading up to that Fall Classic, McCarver caught Gibson 24 times in one of the finest seasons ever put together by a pitcher in AL/NL history.

“I don't know if we were inseparable at a point until we weathered the wars together,” McCarver said recently. “You win a World Series in 1964, you do things and it means a lot to you. That solders the cement as not only friends.”

They became transitive. Talk of Gibson inherently needed to include talk of McCarver. Their accolades were singular but only accomplished because of each other.

A partnership separated by 60 feet, six inches became a linkage for life.

“Anything I do with respect to Bob and his family, they mean the world to me, they’re like my family,” McCarver said. “We were very, very close friends off the field. He was funny, funny, funny. And I know everything about him. Everything.”

McCarver spoke with MLB.com during the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame weekend celebration in late-August. Just a day later, the Cardinals held Bob Gibson Day, their first official honoring at Busch Stadium since Gibson passed away in October 2020.

On the field, catching the ceremonial first pitch from Wendy Gibson, Bob’s surviving wife, was McCarver.

Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey

Arguably no battery this century has been as linked to consistent winning more than and . Like Wainwright and Molina, they closed out a World Series together. Molina leads NL history with 101 postseason games played, but Posey (53 postseason games) and Bumgarner boast more championships (three to two).

Together, Bumgarner and Posey made 226 starts as batterymates. Considering only players who are still active, that’s second behind the Molina-Wainwright tandem. (Wainwright and Molina could hang 100 on that total should they give it one more go in 2022.)

“Just the rareness of two teammates playing together that long, and then for it to be batterymates,” Posey said recently. “Reading the three batterymates in front of them puts it in perspective for me, how rare it is for them to accomplish what they have together.”

Wainwright has said that he and Molina are able to hold full-fledged conversations from the mound to home plate without raising their voices. Most of the time, they do it without even uttering a word.

Posey can relate.

“You start to read facial expressions and posture on the mound, even like the way somebody is in the dugout in between innings. All of it is factored in,” Posey said. “I think a lot of it is even subconscious.”

Bumgarner is now a D-back, leaving San Francisco after the 2019 season. Posey, like Molina, is a one-franchise lifer. Could the former Giants duo have been baseball’s last chance to keep pace with Wainwright and Molina, reaching 226 starts together while both were under the age of 33?

The next-closest pairing between current teammates is 121. That’s between Molina and Carlos Martínez, though Martínez’s days as a Cardinal appear numbered. Behind them are Eduardo Rodriguez and Christian Vázquez of the Red Sox. They share 104 starts.

“Three hundred is just a cool number, isn't it?” Wainwright said recently. “That’s just something that I don't know if that'll ever happen again ever.”

Might it?

Posey shook his head: “No.”

MLB.com’s Maria Guardado contributed to this report.