During one of their earliest outings at Triple-A Memphis, Wainwright kept shaking off Molina’s signs.
“He came out to the mound, and he was like, `Dude, you are shaking me off every pitch. What is the deal?”‘ Wainwright said, recalling the conversation. “It was just one of those days where whatever he called I felt like I had a better plan.”
After the game, Wainwright said the catcher got in his face. The pitcher went right back at Molina.
The two reached an agreement, and for the better part of the past decade-and-a-half, the duo’s been on the same page.
“They’ve been together so long it’s almost like one person,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “They know how each other thinks. They have a Plan A going into the game, but that could easily flip to B, C, D; and they’d be on the same page the whole way throughout.”
For the 40-year-old Wainwright, the on-field relationship with the 39-year-old Molina comes down to trust.
“The main reason for that trust is we know each other is prepared,” Wainwright said. “I know he’s putting in hours and hours to prepare for each game watching the film, breaking down hitters.”
The threat of rain forced Wainwright to the back fields Saturday for his final tune-up of the spring. The right-hander threw 89 pitches in five simulated innings, often working through game-specific situations.
Afterward, Marmol made official what had long been surmised: Wainwright will make his seventh career opening day start on Thursday when St. Louis hosts Pittsburgh. Unless something shocking happens in the next few days, Molina will be catching him.
Wainwright said Marmol formerly informed him of the opening day pitching plans quite informally.
“We were talking about something else and he was like, `Oh, by the way, you’re starting opening day,`” Wainwright said.
With 20 more starts together, Wainwright and Molina will have 325, passing Detroit’s Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan for most career starts as a battery.
“It’s a pleasure to be here in this position and I’m going to try to enjoy it,” said Molina, who has said this will be his final spring training.
During their 16 years together as major leaguers, Wainwright and Molina played parts in some of the greatest of moments in Cardinals’ history.
None is more iconic than Wainwright’s bases-loaded strikeout of Carlos Beltran for the final out of the 2006 NL Division Series. The Cardinals advanced to defeat Detroit to claim their 10th World Series title.
Wainwright, Molina and the Cardinals won another title in 2011.
“We’ve got a bunch of memories together,” Molina said. “Definitely that’s one of the good memories we have together. Hopefully we can do that this year, too.”
Wainwright smiles at the thought of that strikeout – Beltran would later become a teammate. But Wainwright would rather talk about a friendship with Molina that began when they were in the minor leagues and developed through plane rides, bus trips and hotel rooms.
“The relationship started as pitcher and catcher – baseball only, at the field only – to 18 years later, 19 years later, doing Thanksgiving with him in his house in Puerto Rico,” Wainwright said. “Honestly, we were kids and now we’re old men – not old men, but older guys – and we grew up together.”