Shared path leads Molina, Wainwright to All-Star Game
NEW YORK -- The multipurpose room in the Cardinals' complex in Jupiter, Fla., has served as the setting for two organization-defining news conferences, held about 13 months apart.
Yadier Molina went first, agreeing to a multiyear extension that would allow him the chance to go for, in his words, "six more championships" before he'd have to consider free agency again. Raised as a Cardinal, Molina never wanted to leave.
The next spring, Adam Wainwright took the same seat, and he choked up as he tried to express what it would mean to be a career Cardinal.
"Usually, I'm not at a loss for words," Wainwright finally admitted. "But the city of St. Louis means so much to me that it's taking me a little bit to get it out."
The contracts handed to both Wainwright and Molina ensured that the batterymates can remain teammates through 2018. It was all a part of the Cardinals' deliberate plan to retain top talent, to negate the possibility of free-agent dollars potentially luring away their stars.
Those stars were on the same stage on Monday, this time together, sitting adjacent to each other during the media-availability portion of All-Star Monday -- Wainwright, a second-time All-Star another season removed from the interruption of Tommy John surgery; and Molina, a member of the National League team for the fifth straight year and arguably the league's best player during the season's first half.
Molina and Wainwright are two of the six Cardinals representing the club at baseball's July jewel event. They, along with Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran and Matt Carpenter, were named from the outset, and Edward Mujica was added on Sunday.
"When I look at how many Cardinal players we have here, I think it's a testament to how balanced our first half has been," Wainwright said. "Everybody has been a contributor on many different levels -- from our leadoff hitter down to our bullpen and into our starting rotation. It's good to see some acknowledgement. We've played some very good ball and are on the top of our division. I think that goes to show you how well rounded our team is."
Teammates dating back to 2004 -- the year both began in Triple-A -- Molina and Wainwright have been front-row observers to each other's maturation process.
Wainwright has watched Molina evolve from a defensive standout to one of the most well-rounded backstops in baseball. He still marvels at Molina's ability to make the sum of a pitching staff greater than its parts, particularly this season, during which 11 rookies have taken the mound.
"We have so many young guys that go out there and throw quality games," Wainwright said, "but with those great arms, we need a shepherd, a mentor, a leader. Yadier, what he does is, he allows all those young pitchers to be great. He makes them believe in their stuff. He gets them to execute their pitches. They know that if Yadier is catching the ball, he's going to make balls look like strikes, he's going to block every ball, he's going to throw out every runner. It takes all the guesswork out of pitching."
Molina is similarly amazed by the evolution of his ace. Molina helped guide Wainwright through the transition from reliever to frontline starter. Then he watched as Wainwright found his own ways to survive post-surgery, when it was necessary that Wainwright reinvent himself in order to get the outs that previously had come easily.
Now Wainwright leads the league in wins (12), innings pitched (146 2/3), complete games (four) and shutouts (two). Furthermore, he maintains an incredible 8.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"He's been great for us," Molina said. "He's been the captain of our team, our pitching staff. He's the leader. Every time he takes the mound, good things happen."
Wainwright will not be taking the mound again until next Sunday, having opted for extra rest over the opportunity to pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game at Citi Field. He will, however, participate in the peripheral events, along with the family members who accompanied him to New York.
He came ready with spectator gear, too.
"This break is perfect timing for me," said Wainwright, who pitched one inning in the 2010 Midsummer Classic. "I could use a couple of days off, no doubt. I'm going to do that. I brought my tennis shoes and my shagging glove. If I had a hammock, that would put it over the top. I plan on resting during my All-Star break this year, which is going to be great."
Molina, despite some recent troubles with his right knee, remains committed to starting for the NL, which has won the last three All-Star Games. Molina, who received more fan votes than anyone else in the league, has been slotted to bat sixth in manager Bruce Bochy's lineup.
He'll catch several pitchers during his stint, beginning with Mets youngster and All-Star starter Matt Harvey.
"I'm looking forward to doing that," Molina said. "He's a good pitcher. He's a good talent, has a good arm. He's one of the best pitchers in the league right now."
Molina and Wainwright return to this stage changed from the first time they graced it. They are the fresh faces of a perennial winner, the leaders on a team that, over the past two years, prioritized not letting either get away.
"The first All-Star Game, I spoke to, like, three reporters, so yeah, this is a little different for me," Wainwright said. "Everybody was crowded around Albert [Pujols] and Yadi and all those people. Being here now, it's a special feeling. It's something that you play and you fight and you work so hard for to get here. It's just an acknowledgement that your hard work is paying off."
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.