For several weeks, Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright has been saying that the team wins total for the games in which he pitches to catcher Yadier Molina meant more to him than the total starts record the two probably will set later this season.
On Sunday night, the Cardinals won for a record 203rd time with Wainwright and Molina as the starting battery. That eclipsed the 202 number established by Boston/Milwaukee lefthander Warren Spahn and catcher Del Crandall from 1949-63.
Not only did the Cardinals win, but the 40-year-old Wainwright and 39-year-old Molina combined on a two-way gem in a 15-6 Cardinals rout of the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium. But this wasn’t the only history that was made on Sunday.
In an homage to old-timers, 42-year-old Albert Pujols made his big-league pitching debut for the Cardinals in the ninth.
Pujols, throwing in the 50s and 60s, allowed a three-run homer to Giants pitcher Luis Gonzalez, who actually had been the left fielder, and a solo homer to Joey Bart.
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“He needs to keep the ball down,” Joshed Molina.
Wainwright (4-3) limited the Giants to only one hit over the first five innings before being tagged for a two-run Joc Pederson homer in the sixth. And Molina, who had just two runs batted in for the season, doubled that total by hitting a two-run homer and a two-run single. As they started together, the two left together after six innings.
“It was very fitting. They both had done their job,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol. “That’s something to celebrate right there — the amount of wins those two guys have. I don’t see anybody breaking that.”
Molina said, “This is about winning. Hopefully, we can win, what, about 20 more games?”
Like pitchers who win their first games in the majors, Wainwright and Molina both were stuffed into laundry carts, were wheeled into the showers and drenched with Cherry Coke, Fanta and almond milk among other fluids.
“I mean, you saw both sides laughing,” Wainwright said. “We know this is a long season. But you’re soaking in moments like that. Albert Pujols pitched today. Now we just need to get me an at-bat, and this will be a great season.”
Wainwright was making his first start in 11 days, having tested positive for COVID.
“I don’t want to miss starts… but every now and then a blow like that can help you,” he said.
Marmol, initially said the ninth-inning pitching assignment had come down to “Dickerson and Dickerson,” referring to outfielder Corey Dickerson.
“While we were talking about it, (Pujols) said, ‘I’ll throw it.’ And I said, ‘What’s wrong with that?’
“But a lot of people stuck around,” said Marmol. “It was a nice little reward.”
San Francisco starter Carlos Rodon had struck out 53 men without allowing a home run, making him one of four starters since at least 1901 to accomplish that through the first six starts of the season. Paul Goldschmidt, who also had two doubles, put a quick end to that in the first inning with a two-run homer off a 96 mph four-seamer into Big Mac Land in left field.
The Cardinals have homered in 11 consecutive games, the longest streak by any major league team this season.
“We know he has a good fastball,” Marmol said. “He It’s one of the best ones in the league. He establishes it early and we wanted to make sure we forced him to go to secondary stuff, if possible. And by the fifth pitch of the game, he had to flip the script, and we beat him.”
Addressing what had been an inconsistent offense, Marmol said, “You tell these guys they can’t do something enough, hopefully they take it personal.”
Rodon, who had had a 1.80 earned run average, had given up just four hits in 29 at-bats to the Cardinals who were in the lineup on Sunday. The Cardinals were 10 for 19 against him on Sunday as they had 17 hits overall.
Molina walloped a 417-foot-drive into the left-center-field bleachers behind one of Pujols’ two walks (he also had two hits) to hike the Cardinals’ lead to 11-0 in the fifth. Molina snapped a tie with Hall of Famer Ted Simmons to go into ninth place on the Cardinals’ homer list at 173.
“We’re kind of seeing him do whatever he wants with the bat,” Marmol said.
The homer was catcher Molina’s 327th hit in a Wainwright start, pulling him even for first with New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey’s 327 for pitcher Red Ruffing. Both of Molina’s homers this season have come off Zack Littell and this one leaped off the bat at 107.8 mph, his hardest-hit ball since tracking began in 2015.
The Cardinals’ backstops had combined for only eight RBIs this season, six of them by Andrew Knizner. But Knizner, relieving Molina, had three more himself on Sunday after relieving Molina.
The seventh inning featured the pitching appearance by left-hander Gonzalez, who had pitched in college at New Mexico. Gonzalez was clocked a low as 42 mph although he surprised Dickerson with an 85 mph fastball, also.
“Albert was right in the hitting zone. Gonzalez was underneath it,” said Marmol.
Gonzalez, who pitched 1⅓ scoreless innings, said, “Coming to bat off Albert and to be able to put one over the bleachers, that just capped the night.”
Pujols said, “It was a dream come true. Now I can say I did it. It was fun. But it wasn’t fun giving up two bombs.”
I have figured what goes around comes around.
“Amen to that,” he said, laughing.
“I threw it right in the sweet spot. They made me pay, just like I made a lot of pitchers pay over the last 22 years.”
The win was No. 188 in his career for Wainwright. The 311 starts in tandem left Wainwright and Molina five short of Spahn/Crandall for second place in that category and 13 behind first-place Mickey Lolich and the late Bill Freehan of the Detroit Tigers.
“The (team) wins is the most important thing,” said Wainwright. “But don’t get me wrong. We want to be known as The Battery. Everywhere.”
Wainwright noted, however, that he, like Pujols, had given up a home run in his big-league pitching debut.