ST. LOUIS – Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. A journey fifteen years in the making leads the St. Louis Cardinals’ legendary tandem to their own unique place in baseball history.
Wainwright and Molina will make their 325th career start together on Wednesday, fulfilling one of baseball’s most anticipated narratives of the season.
The dynamic duo will take over sole possession of the record for most starts as an MLB battery. For more than half of a century, the record had been held by Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan of the Detroit Tigers, who played together 12 seasons together in the 1960s and ’70s.
“It’s been a good run,” said Wainwright. “He’s an incredible teammate, friend, and partner-in-crime. We’ve been together for a long time. We got to finish strong.”
“It feels amazing to do it with Waino,” said Molina. “That’s going to be tough to break. It’s a special moment for us.”
While Wainwright and Molina have been teammates at the MLB level since 2005, their current run at the record began when Wainwright became a full-time starter two years later. Prior to then, the two first worked together as minor league teammates on the Memphis Redbirds in 2004 to set a foundation as a starting battery.
Their first full season together at the MLB level came in 2006, the Cardinals’ first season at Busch Stadium III. Wainwright proved reliable in middle-relief roles as a rookie, then later thrived as the defacto closer as the Cardinals narrowly squeezed into the postseason picture. Wainwright and Molina would secure the final out in each of the next three postseason series to secure the 2006 World Series title.
A winner-take-all from the 2006 National League Championship Series produced two iconic moments that offered a glimpse of just how prolific Wainwright and Molina’s careers could become.
On Oct. 19, 2006, Molina blasted a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning to give the Cardinals a late 3-1 lead. In the next half inning, he helped Wainwright work out of a jam and produce a breaking ball strikeout that froze postseason paragon Carlos Beltran.
Wainwright’s and Molina’s young-career heroics sent the Cardinals to the World Series. Eight days later, Wainwright’s token pitch whiffed Brandon Inge to give the battery their first World Series championship.
The record-setting quest began as defending World Series champions on April 6, 2007. Wainwright fired seven innings of one-run ball and struck out four in his first MLB start. Molina guided the way with 9 putouts and a double play. The duo helped the Cardinals navigate a 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros.
“I was watching it the other day, that first game with him. It’s amazing,” said Molina.
In their first four years as a starting battery, Wainwright and Molina combined 102 starts together, including all but one of Wainwright’s 67 starts between 2009 and 2010. Both also earned their first All-Star and Gold Glove honors during that stretch, giving the Cardinals confidence to build around two young centerpieces. St. Louis would win its most recent World Series the next year in 2011, even with Wainwright sidelined due to Tommy John surgery.
Longtime teammate and franchise face Albert Pujols departed after the 2011 season, paving the way to five-year contracts for Molina and Wainwright shortly after his departure. The duo delivered behind two Top-4 MVP finishes for Molina and two Top-3 Cy Young finishes for Wainwright through 2014, averaging around 25 starts together per year in Wainwright’s first three seasons back from surgery.
Wainwright and Molina have dealt with various injuries and mixed results in the later stages of the 2010s, but the Cardinals have ultimately made the postseason eight times in seasons that the two have worked as a starting battery, advancing past their opening round four times.
The best postseason push as a starting battery came in 2013, when Wainwright tossed a complete game to help the Cardinals advance to the National League Championship Series. The duo came within two Cardinals victories of another World Series title.
Wainwright and Molina entered the 2022 season with a combined 305 starts, which was then fourth-most in MLB history. This season alone, the pair had already passed Red Faber and Ray Schalk of the Chicago White Sox (306) and Warren Spahn and Del Crandall of the formerly-known Boston/Milwaukee Braves (316).
While climbing up the leaderboards, Wainwright and Molina helped set another record as a starting battery earlier this year. Wainwright tossed six innings in a Cardinals win over the San Francisco Giants on May 15, which gave St. Louis 203 all-time victories behind the starting battery, also the most in MLB history.
An obstacle to the more prominent battery record emerged midseason when Molina landed on the injured list with persistent knee soreness. The 19-year backstop missed nearly a month and a half of action, putting the record chase on hold at 316 starts from June 11 to Aug. 2.
As the run for the record has intensified, Wainwright and Molina have had the opportunity to enjoy many of the recent starts at Busch Stadium. Add in Wednesday, eight of the last nine starts together since Molina’s return have happened at Busch Stadium. That included a two-home run game from Molina last Thursday, an outing in which he matched the all-time battery record with Wainwright.
“Primetime players show up in primetime games,” said Wainwright on Molina’s performance. “He likes winning, he likes playing on winning teams and he likes winning World Series. I think he feels that right now, and you can smell that.”
Molina has acknowledged several times that the 2022 season will be his final as a catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals and at the MLB level. Wainwright has not yet announced his future plans beyond this year, but has found top form deeper into his career and earned several one-year contracts over the last few seasons.
Molina leads all Cardinals catchers with 2,216 games played, 2,163 hits, 175 home runs and 1,017 RBIs and 18,223 innings caught. Wainwright enters the historic start third in wins (194), fourth in games started (386) and second in strikeouts (2,138) in Cardinals history.