St. Louis Cardinals: Together, Yadi-Waino have been muy bueno

The St. Louis Cardinals have one of the best pitcher-catcher combos in Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. Together they keep climbing the all-time battery charts.

A storied St. Louis Cardinals battery will be reunited for a 14th — and perhaps final — season when pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday. Adam Wainwright, 38, and Yadier Molina, 37, have started 265 regular-season games together, far more than any current pitcher-catcher combo. By season’s end, they could rank as high as fourth on the all-time list of pitcher-catcher starts.

Here are the most enduring pitcher-catcher starting duos:

The Tigers’ Mickey LolichBill Freehan — 324 starts together from 1963 to ’75.
The Braves’ Warren SpahnDel Crandall — 316 starts from 1949 to ’63.
The White Sox’s Red FaberRay Schalk — 306 from 1914 to ’26.

With a little luck and sustained health, Wainwright-Molina could pass the No. 6 combo, Steve RogersGary Carter of the 1975-84 Expos (270 combined starts); the No. 5 combo, Don DrysdaleJohn Roseboro of the 1957-67 Dodgers (283 starts); and the No. 4 combo, Red RuffingBill Dickey of the 1930-46 Yankees (282 starts).

A long-lasting pitcher-catcher combination nearly always brings success. Twenty-two of the top 24 batteries won at least one World Series championship together, the only exceptions being the Expos’ Rogers-Carter and the Indians’ Early Wynn and Jim Hegan.

Wainwright first pitched to Molina at Class AAA Memphis in 2004. Two years later, the tandem played a crucial role in the Cardinals improbable run (their 83-78 regular-season record was the worst of the eight playoff teams) to a World Championship, with Molina batting .322 with six extra-base hits in 16 postseason games, and Wainwright, in relief, throwing nine shutout innings with four saves.

Wainwright and Molina made their first mutual start in a 4-2 win over the Astros on April 6, 2007, with Waino holding Houston to one run in seven innings and smacking an RBI double in the third inning. With runners on the corners and no outs in the seventh, Wainwright and his catcher combined on a slick double play. The pitcher bare-handed a bunt by Brad Ausmus, flipped the ball to Molina for a tag at the plate, and then Yadi gunned down Ausmus at first.

The Waino-Yadi alliance owes a lot to timing and durability, with the pitcher making his big-league arrival just two seasons after the catcher broke in. But many see more than a little magic in their long-time pairing.

Pitching coach Mike Maddux told Joe Trezza of mlb.com last October that the Waino-Yadi relationship is “a special thing I’ve never seen before.” Molina has said the pitcher “is like my brother,” and Wainwright contends that “one of my favorite things in the world to do is pitch to No. 4.

Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver rank second among Cardinals batteries, having started 197 games together from 1959 to 1969, and again in 1973 and ’74. Their first combined start occurred on Sept. 12, 1959, when the 23-year-old Gibson struck out 10 batters and had two hits in a 6-4 win over the Cubs.

McCarver, 17, went 0 for 5 with a passed ball. Ten years and 20 days later, on the last day of the 1969 season, Gibson struck out 10 in a 3-2 12-inning complete-game victory over the Phillies for his 20th win of the season; both Philly runs were unearned. McCarver, soon to be traded, went 0 for 5 and allowed two stolen bases.

The brothers Cooper (Mort and Walker) made a memorable Cardinals battery from 1940 to ’45. Older brother Mort Cooper, a three-time All-Star, went 22-7 with a 1.78 ERA and won NL MVP in 1942; Walker Cooper, an eight-time All-Star (three times with St. Louis) hit .318 with 91 RBI and finished second to Stan Musial in 1943 MVP voting.

The catcher is the key to enduring battery duos. During the 15 years that Molina has started for the Cardinals, every other MLB team has had at least five catchers as primary starters. That includes the Giants, who started Mike Matheny (remember him?), Eliezer Alfonzo, and Yadi’s brother Bengie Molina before Buster Posey took the job in 2010, plus Eli Whiteside when Posey got hurt in 2011.

That said, Posey and Madison Bumgarner rank as the No. 2 battery of this century. According to baseball-reference.com, Wainwright has pitched to Molina 309 times, including relief appearances, while Bumgarner and Posey have worked together 228 times. The latter pair won three World Series championships together, one more than Wainwright-Molina. They also did some hitting: On July 13, 2014, Bumgarner and Posey both hit grand slams in an 8-4 win over the Diamondbacks, the first pitcher-catcher battery to accomplish that feat.

Unfortunately for Giants fans, the Madison-Buster union has gone bust, at least for now, with the pitcher signing with the Diamondbacks in December.

As for other 21st-century batteries, the Phillies’ Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz got together for 207 games, and the Astros’ Roy Oswalt and Brad Ausmus teamed up 200 times.

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Those two tandems wrapped it up long ago while Wainwright and Molina keep chugging along. The pitcher wouldn’t have it any other way. “He’s been a rock for me,” Wainwright told The New York Times in 2017, speaking of Molina. “If I had my choice, I’d never throw to any other catcher — ever.”