Yadi in elite company, catches 2,000th game

Veteran 1st to achieve feat with one team, hits mark with Waino on mound

April 14th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- Deep in the bowels of Busch Stadium on Wednesday morning sat , going through the pregame regimen that has allowed him to remain a baseball stalwart for the past 18 years. Out of sight, in his Shangri-La, he conducted his pregame scouting report of the Nationals with right-hander Adam Wainwright, as the pair embarked on their 277th start together, inching towards another milestone in a chock-full year for the duo. It’s game day in St. Louis. Inherently, it’s game day for Molina.

They say hope springs eternal every April. Molina is also eternal.

“I go down to Spring Training early and I’m at the complex early in the morning, and there’s Yadi, just working,” said manager Mike Shildt. “I walked down the hall two years ago on an off-day, and there’s Yadi. There is no coincidence.”

The Cardinals’ backstop caught the 2,000th game of his career in Wednesday’s 6-0 loss in the series finale against the Nationals, becoming the sixth catcher in MLB history to reach such a mark.

Three Hall of Famers have done it. Three have done it while adding a couple hundred on top of the double millenia plateau. Only Iván Rodríguez has done it while amassing more Gold Glove Awards along the way.

None had done it with a single team. Until Molina.

“To be honest, it’s just another number,” Molina said, demonstrating the team-first attitude that has made him enamored of both the clubhouse and the stands. “I just want to be there and play the game for our team and for our city and play to win it. I never think to go out there and make my numbers. I always think about the team first, and like I said, I wish this day ended with a different result. If we would have won this game, it would have been more special for me.”

Sweetest about the day’s ceremonies is that the Cardinals were allowed to celebrate a player who’s made a point of doing so for icons of the team’s past -- when Kolten Wong made his return to St. Louis on Thursday; when Albert Pujols did the same in 2019; and when countless other franchise mainstays have done similar in year’s past.

The route Molina takes in front of home plate in such instances, allowing those in attendance to honor the guest of the day, took on a new form.

After a ball on his first pitch of the game, Wainwright stepped off the mound. The 13,206 fans in attendance paid homage. The Cardinals, led by Shildt, stood outside the dugout to do the same.

It was Molina’s day.

“I never expected less from Waino,” Molina said. “He is one of the great human beings.”

Wainwright pumped up his arms to invite a louder roar.

“I don’t want to call him a clown, because he’s not a clown, but he tried to make me laugh,” Molina said. “Most of the time, I don’t laugh that often.”

“I would have liked to see him take a Cal Ripken [Jr.] lap around the field,” Wainwright said.

“How many times have I had a chance to do something like that in my career?” Wainwright added. “Not one in the regular season. One time with Derek Jeter in the All-Star Game, and one time today for Yadier Molina. Two of the greatest players of all time."

The comparison to Ripken is one the Cardinals have been throwing around this week, not in direct comparison, but in the pure tenacity and durability that each accomplishment required -- especially crouching behind a plate on 2,000 separate occasions.

“The way I put a record like that in the context, and I do that with Cal’s streak, is you start to put that into context of how many years that is of playing -- in Cal’s case every day, in Yadi’s case most every day,” said Shildt, who holds a close bond with Ripken’s "Iron Man" streak. “ … You put 2,000 games in the context of a 162-game regular season, you say, ‘OK, if you caught every single game, how many years would that be?’ And you go, ‘Whoa.’ It's amazing, especially when you see the evolution of the game.”

“Just a once-in-a-lifetime catcher that we're getting to see here,” Wainwright said. “The 2,000, though, I know that was special for him. But that just hard seals the Hall of Fame career for me. I mean, it was already sealed, but that just seals the deal for me, for sure.”

The key word is evolution. Molina, publicly unrivaled in dedication to his craft and to annual improvement as his game is forced to evolve with age, has yielded some of the best results at the plate in his career this season. Small sample granted, he entered Wednesday batting .353/.410/.588 with two homers and a 178 OPS+ through the first 10 starts of 2021.

“Those habits, when guys are doing that, that's what makes them special, right?” Shildt said. “ … There's just a lot of different factors into that that in of [themselves] are impressive, but collectively are very, when you think about it in these terms, rarefied air.”

It’s no accident who Molina threw to for Game 2,000. Receiving his first day off of the season in Tuesday’s trouncing of the Nationals, Molina lined up to catch Wainwright on Wednesday. It marked the duo’s 277th game started together -- sixth most in MLB history.

After six more starts, that mark will become the fourth most.

But that’s a milestone for another day.