Youth may be hyped, but vets give Cards lift
Wainwright cruises for win No. 100, while batterymate Molina handles the scoring
CINCINNATI -- In delightful defiance of a wicked winter, the temperature was rising in the mid-60s, the Findlay Market Parade was rolling through the downtown streets, and all that hope and hoopla that accompanies this unofficial holiday was in full bloom in and around Great American Ball Park.
Right around the time Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina had their meeting to discuss their means of spoiling the party.
We've expended much air and ink talking about how impressively replete with talented youth these defending National League champion Cardinals are. They've got a lineup with five homegrown players, four of whom are 28 or younger. They've got a devastating assembly of high-velocity arms in the rotation and in the bullpen. They are the epitome of what you can build when you draft and develop young studs and then trust them on the Major League stage.
If anything about this effort was real, though, it was the tone set by Waino and Yadi, the central figures of a Cardinals club that seems likely to live up to the hype.
Wainwright joined the 100-win club with seven unseasonably sharp innings in which he limited the Reds to three hits and four walks (one intentional) with nine strikeouts. Molina provided not just the game's lone run -- smacking a Johnny Cueto cutter into the left-field seats with one out in the seventh -- but also blocked balls in the dirt and initiated the rare 2-6-3 double play and had his usual pitch-calling prominence.
So, you know, pretty standard stuff from the ace of the starting staff and the backstop so often cited as team MVP.
"He and I spoke before the game," Wainwright said, "and the tone of that was, 'Hey, I just want to be comfortable out there. I want to stay true to what I've been working on all spring. I don't want to fall into old patterns.' And he and I just get each other so well. We were on the same page from the first pitch of the game on."
By night's end, all those once-optimistic voices on the local radio broadcast were bemoaning the "lethargy" that had seemingly inflicted the local nine. The Reds had been shut out on Opening Day for the first time since 1953, the first game of the relatively short-lived existence for the Milwaukee Braves. Their electric young leadoff man, Billy Hamilton, had been fitted with the dreaded golden sombrero. They had been gifted two errors from the so-called improved Cards' D in an ugly eighth, only to waste chance after chance to take over.
These are the results they'll toss and turn over in this town on Tuesday's off-day, and knowing what we know about sports fans, in general, it would not be a shock to hear calls for Bryan Price's head one official game into his stewardship.
That's all silly stuff, of course, because Opening Day is prone to outlandish expectations and an unusual amount of attention on not-necessarily-binding results.
If anything about this effort was real, though, it was the tone set by Waino and Yadi, the central figures of a Cardinals club that seems highly likely to live up to the hype.
Wainwright, unsurprisingly, has embraced his status as elder statesman of this youthful pitching unit, handed Chris Carpenter's bloody chalice and becoming, in his own words, the resident "old, crafty righty." He doesn't hit 100 mph like several of the others. But he does hit his spots. His first K on this day came on an 87 mph cutter, his second on a 94 mph four-seamer. His curveball had more bite than the legal limit ought allow on March 31.
"Amazing," Molina said. "Outside, inside, up and down."
Wainwright spent all spring in search of this early statement. The sting of the stinker he turned in on Oct. 23 -- better known as Game 1 of the World Series in Boston -- stuck with him all winter.
"I seriously have been working and grinding so hard to keep my emotions out of everything and just focus on making the pitch," he said. "That's really what I've been working harder than anything else on. I feel like that simplifies everything. At times you start thinking about guys on deck and guys in the hole, the magnitude of situations and visiting parks and things of that nature. It just distracts you from making the pitch, and I'm not going to do it anymore."
If he does, Molina will likely pump the brakes and get in the ace's ear. Hit the lone homer in a 1-0 game, and you've got a darned good shot of making the highlight reel. But Molina's influence extends to the stuff beneath the surface and off the screen.
"We continue to talk about what he does for our staff," manager Mike Matheny said, "and the confidence, especially these young pitchers have, when they come into the game. They know Yadi has a real good idea of how to maximize their stuff and to just follow along and trust what he's doing."
The Cardinals are showing quite a bit of trust in young bodies this season. Look up and down the roster, listen to the scouts, think about what went on last October, and you can't blame them.
But lest there be any confusion about where their bread is buttered, Wainwright and Molina did the damage on Opening Day. They spoiled the party in Cincinnati. Maybe, for the Cards, the party is just getting started.