ST. LOUIS — Tonight, as Yadier Molina crouches behind the plate and Adam Wainwright settles himself on the mound and the Cardinals square off with the Brewers under the shadow of the Gateway Arch, baseball history will be made.
It’s not sexy baseball history. They’re not chasing hallowed home run marks, or even the round numbers baseball purists love. But the iconic Cardinals duo will do something neither Albert Pujols chasing 700 career homers or Aaron Judge running down the magical 60-in-a-season mark can even dream of doing this year: They will set a baseball record that will never, ever be broken. Theirs is epic, enduring baseball history.
This will be the 325th time Wainwright has started a game with Molina as his catcher. No pitcher-catcher tandem has ever started more games together in the history of this great sport.
It’s a big day, and everybody in the ballpark knows it.
“Albert’s in the lineup, and Yadi will catch tonight,” Cardinals manager Oli Marmol said pregame, then grinned. “Waino, yeah, we thought about an opener, but …”
They tied the record set in 1975 by Mickey Lolich and his catcher, Bill Freehan, last week in a game against the Nationals. Before Lolich and Freehan established the record with the Tigers, Warren Spahn and Del Crandall owned the top number, with 316 for the Braves, set in 1963. Before that, the number was 306, set in 1926 by Red Faber and Ray Schalk.
Those six players make up the only other three duos in MLB history with at least 300 games together. Wainwright and Molina have three times more starts than the next duo on the active list, the Cubs combo of Kyle Hendricks and Willson Contreras, at 105. Then, it’s Aaron Nola and J.T. Realmuto in Philadelphia, at 88. Third on the list? Molina and Jack Flaherty, at 69. Fifth on the list? Molina and Miles Mikolas, at 60.
The duo made their first battery start on April 6, 2007, in Houston.
“A lot has taken place in that time span, and that’s why I think this record is pretty darn cool,” Marmol said. “I don’t see anyone coming close to ever touching it again. When you can be in the record book and know it’s not going to be touched, that’s pretty cool.”
The pair could have three more starts the rest of the season, so the final number could wind up being 328. Whatever the final number is, the “No. 1” next to it will be written in ink, not pencil. Why? Because the game has changed. Players rarely stay with one team for their entire careers, much less two players suiting up for the same team for concurrent careers.
Zack Greinke is the active leader in starts. The most starts he’s had with any one catcher is 94, with John Buck. For Justin Verlander it’s 124, with Alex Avila. But those two guys have played for multiple teams. What about Clayton Kershaw, who has made all 394 of his career starts (Wainwright entered Wednesday at 386) with the Dodgers? Only 118, with A.J. Ellis.
Even all time — and, again, that’s what makes this record so special — none of the greats are even close. For Nolan Ryan (773 career starts), it’s Andy Ashby, at 135. For Don Sutton (756), it’s Steve Yeager, at 166. For Greg Maddux (740), it’s Eddie Perez, at 121.
Here’s what is amazing about what Wainwright and Molina have accomplished, though: The game had changed in this regard before they arrived on the scene, an era that symbolically ended when Hall of Famers such as Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken retired shortly after the calendars rolled into the 2000s.
But here they are. So many things had to happen. Honestly, if Pujols doesn’t leave as a free agent, it probably doesn’t happen. It wasn’t directly a Pujols-or-Molina choice, but committing that percentage of payroll to two players — even two future Hall of Famers — would have been tough. If Wainwright doesn’t deal with his injury issues — he missed all of 2011 and had 10 or fewer starts in 2015 and 2018 — who knows how it plays out?
But, yeah, here they are.
And here’s the other thing: Even in the era before free agency and before player movement was common, when players usually — not rarely — stayed with one team their entire careers, only three duos reached 300 games as a battery and only nine others duos even reached 250 games together. There are 35 duos to reach the 200-game mark. Other than Wainwright and Molina, only three — Tom Glavine/Javy Lopez (248), Madison Bumgarner/Buster Posey (226) and Cole Hamels/Carlos Ruiz (207) — threw a single pitch after 1990.
And let’s forget for a moment about the whole “battery mates” thing. This is the 18th season Molina and Wainwright have been teammates; only two duos have played more seasons together — Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were together as Yankees for 19 years, as were Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell with the Tigers.
It’s not just about excellence and longevity. It’s about parallel excellence and longevity, and that’s what really and truly sets this record apart from the others. If nothing else, it’s what makes it more difficult than any others.
Maybe not sexy, but absolutely epic and enduring.