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Molina passes Bench in catching milestone

St. Louis backstop now in 16th place in career games caught
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- Back in the lineup merely 12 hours after capping Tuesday's 3-2 win with a walk-off hit, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina eclipsed another legend on another all-time list.

Wednesday it was Johnny Bench, whom Molina leapfrogged for sole possession of 16th place in terms of career games caught. Molina logged his 1,743rd game behind the plate when he squatted to receive Carlos Martinez's first pitch. He'd already passed Bench on the career innings-caught list earlier this season in Cincinnati, after which he called it "an honor" to be compared with the Hall of Famer.

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ST. LOUIS -- Back in the lineup merely 12 hours after capping Tuesday's 3-2 win with a walk-off hit, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina eclipsed another legend on another all-time list.

Wednesday it was Johnny Bench, whom Molina leapfrogged for sole possession of 16th place in terms of career games caught. Molina logged his 1,743rd game behind the plate when he squatted to receive Carlos Martinez's first pitch. He'd already passed Bench on the career innings-caught list earlier this season in Cincinnati, after which he called it "an honor" to be compared with the Hall of Famer.

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"I am just blessed that God gave me health and to be here for 15 years catching almost every year," Molina said then. "Bench is the best, so I have a ton of respect for him. It's special to be on that list."

Going forward, it's only natural to wonder where Molina ends up on that list, and others. Molina turns 36 this summer and is signed through 2020, after which he plans to retire. The rumored scaling back of his workload hasn't happened; Molina leads MLB catchers in games played and innings caught. He was suspended for the only game he missed.

If healthy, he should easily climb several more rungs up the all-time games-caught list by season's end. He needs 75 to tie Lance Parrish for 12th all-time with 1,818. By the end of 2020, Molina has a realistic shot of ranking as high as fourth, where Gary Carter sits now with 2,056 games caught.

On the all-time innings-caught list, Molina is likely to pass Ted Simmons and Parrish later this year. Even if his workload over the next three seasons is trimmed to 80 percent of what it's been over the past three, Molina could rank as high as fourth all-time in innings caught by 2020.

This projection, of course, comes barring injury or a positional change, the latter of which appears unlikely.

Though his arm-strength metrics nor caught-stealing numbers no longer rank as elite, club officials still rave about Molina's heavy stock of intangibles. Pitchers swear by his instincts, preparation and pitch calling. Teammates revere his leadership. Management values his ability to mold and steward young pitchers.

"Bench is the greatest catcher of all time and that's not argued too much," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "When you're passing the marks of one of the greatest of all time, that's amazing to me. I've always viewed Bench with this superhuman vision in my mind, from what I got to see of him when I was very small. He set the mark for catchers for generations."

Wainwright nearing return
• Satisfied by the way his right elbow responded to a game of catch Tuesday, Adam Wainwright followed up with a bullpen session Wednesday morning. Sidelined since April 20 due to elbow inflammation, Wainwright's return could be imminent, depending on the results of the bullpen.

The Cardinals don't technically need a starter until Tuesday against the Twins. Wainwright appears likely to start. He's already eligible to return from the disabled list.

Matheny's milestone celebrated
• Team staff circulated Matheny's jersey from Tuesday's win around the Cardinals clubhouse Wednesday morning, when every member of the team signed it to commemorate Matheny's 1,000th career regular-season game managed. A club official said the signed jersey still would've been presented to Matheny had the Cardinals lost.

It's been a week of celebrating the milestone for Matheny, who joined Tony La Russa, Red Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog as the only skippers in franchise history to reach the 1,000-game plateau. Matheny said daughter, Katie, baked a chocolate cake with the number "1,000" inscribed in frosting for the occasion. The cake was served during a private family celebration earlier in the week.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright