Perfect.

The towering presence on the mound, the monolith behind home plate. Adam Wainwright. Yadier Molina. Two legendary figures in all of their glory, setting a major-league record, entering their names into baseball history. There was so much to absorb, and nearly 47,000 fans tried to pack years and years of gratitude into a single evening of baseball.

It was a ballgame … and a benediction.

It was a thrill … and a thank you.

It was an unofficial ceremony, with the fans giving their hearts to Waino and Yadi … and the pitcher and catcher sending all of that love back to the crowd.

It was a celebration of a good win over the Brewers … and a larger, more cosmic celebration of icons that have played a major role in the shaping of a winning culture that has made the Cardinals one of the most successful franchises in all of professional sports.

Wainwright and Molina worked together again on Wednesday, pairing for the 325th start of their careers – more than any pitcher-catcher couplet in MLB history.

That record will never be broken. And that’s how it should be, because Wainwright and Molina could never be broken. You don’t combine for 325 career starts in the big leagues without enduring injuries, pain, surgeries, disappointments, and doubts. You don’t last to give your 325th starting performance unless you come to the job with an indomitable spirit, a fervent commitment to hard work, a passionate desire to win, the willingness to make personal sacrifices, and souls filled with abundant joy.

They’ve been together in good times – highlighted by the artful curve to Carlos Beltran that ended the 2006 NLCS, and catapulted the Cardinals into the World Series and to another title. The pitcher and catcher were so young back then. I wonder if they had any idea that they’d make MLB history? Did they imagine becoming  two of the all-time greats in Cardinals history? Could they envision making millions of Cardinal fans so happy for the next 15-plus years? What did they know? They were young men with talent and verve and dreams.

They’ve been together through the hard times, forming the everlasting bond that made them brothers. “Because brothers don’t let each other wander in the dark alone,” the author Jolene Perry wrote.

Here’s what I loved about Wednesday’s 4-1 victory: it summed up so much of what’s made them so special through the years … and it showcased so many things that have made Cardinal baseball so successful.

Busch Stadium has been the hub of the Wainwright-Molina universe since it opened in 2006. This is the place where Wainwright peered in at Molina before striking out Detroit’s Brandon Inge for the 27th out and the save that clinched the 2006 World Series for the Cardinals.

“I belong here, this is where I belong and where I should have been. And this is where Yadier belongs and has been. This is just home for us, and we’re happy to do this here,” Waino said late Wednesday night.

Wainwright on Molina: “He’s just been amazing. It’s really the only way to say it. This guy’s caught 18 years and is always taking the ball, rising to the occasion. He’s just been such a professional, and such a great teammate and competitor, and he’s made me better. Really, he’s just made me a better pitcher.”

Molina on Wainwright: “Doing it with Waino, a great human being, is just amazing. He’s a really great teammate, a friend and a brother to me.”

The starting pitcher and catcher REALLY had to work to turn No. 325 into the franchise’s 213th win when the Waino-Yadi battery is in place. No other duo has produced as many wins for their team as Wainwright and Molina.

This particular win came against Corbin Burnes, the NL’s reigning Cy Young award winner and a great pitcher. The Cardinals had to earn it. And sure enough they won it for their pitcher and their catcher. They had to, right? Losing was not an option.

Wainwright had to reach down to escape trouble. He allowed eight hits and two walks over five innings but fought his way out of jams, twice leaving the bases loaded. But as both men said in a happy home-team clubhouse after the game: the Cardinals would not lose this game. Period. They could not lose this game with Wainwright putting everything he had into finessing pitches to the catcher who navigated him through the storms … same as it ever was. The Brewers could have scored four or five times early on. But Wainwright pushed them away, and gave up only one run.

Nolan Arenado had Waino’s back by launching a solo home run that tied it in the bottom of the first.

Molina – of course! – ripped a RBI single in the second inning to put the Cardinals ahead, 2-1. And the Cardinals wouldn’t let never let down and let the Brewers reclaim the lead. And how about Wainwright and Molina cutting down Kolten Wong on a steal attempt in a classic strikeout / throw-out double play. The pitcher and catcher were playing a selection from their greatest hits. Beautiful.

The young guys were heard from, with Lars Nootbaar blasting a solo homer in the fifth to open a 3-1 lead. The kids joined the party to add to the fun started by the 41-year-old starting pitcher and his 40-year-old catcher.

And then there was No. 42 … as in age.

Albert Pujols presented a gift to his two old friends with a late RBI double that closed the scoring. Pujols, once again, demonstrated an impeccable sense of timing. On the night of the Molina-Wainwright record-breaking ceremony, Pujols came through with career RBI number 2,200. Only two others have more, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. Pujols stands with them now. And on Wednesday, Albert stood with Wainwright and Molina.

Everyone did.

The bullpen held firm.

The defensive replacements patrolled the grounds.

The fans were a big part of this. They watched history being made, just as they’ve watched Molina and Wainwright deliver wins under pressure so many times before. Such a night. A perfect night.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

The Accounting Department:  According to FanGraphs the Cardinals (84-59) have a 99.4 percent chance of winning the NL Central … As for the projected win total, it’s 95.1 wins at Clay Davenport, 94.5 wins at FanGraphs, and 93.5 wins at Baseball Prospectus … The Cards have the best record in the majors (30-11) since the Aug. 2 trade deadline. They’re a half–game better than the Dodgers (30-12) …The Cardinals have MLB’s second-best record (34-15, .694) since the All-Star break. The Dodgers (38-14, .731) are No. 1 since the break … Wednesday’s win lifted the Cardinals’ home record to 48-25. Their .658 home winning percentage ranks fifth overall and second to the Dodgers (.731) in the NL … Cardinals are 21-5 at Busch Stadium since July 15 … St. Louis has a 41-22 record against NL Central rivals and has 13 division games left on the schedule: Pirates (6), Reds (5) and Brewers (2) … the Cardinals have only eight more regular-season games to go at Busch: five with the Reds in a long weekend series that begins Thursday night, and three against the Pirates on a weekend series that starts Sept. 30 … FanGraphs gives the Brewers a 21.6 percent crack at taking the third NL wild card.

Can The Cardinals Catch The Mets Or Braves? Lots of chatter about that (again) after Wednesday’s triumph. If the Cardinals can pilfer the NL’s No. 2 postseason seed, they’d get a first-round bye and a theoretical advantage.

A few thoughts:

— It’s not like the Cardinals have been killing it lately; they have a 5-4 mark in their last nine games. But the Braves and Mets are bogged down right now. The Mets just got swept by the Cubs in a three-game series and are 6-7 in September – despite having only one game against a winning team so far this month. The Braves were rolling along on a west-coast road trip … until losing four of their last five games to finish with a 4-4 record on their journey.

— I appreciate the media cheerleading on this topic; nothing wrong with having fun and letting the spirit move you in an overreaction to a wonderful win over the Brewers on Waino-Yadi Night. I get carried away every time Albert Pujols sends another home run into history, so I get pretty fired up at times. But to be candid I haven’t taken the No. 2 seed talk seriously, simply because the Cardinals have been spinning their wheels during their last three series.

— The Cardinals are capable of spinning a bundle of wins – my gosh they’ve won 31 of their last 42 games, after all – but time is running down. As of Thursday morning, the Cardinals trail the Mets by 4 and ½ games and are an even four games behind the Braves. The Mets’ remaining opponents have a combined .439 winning percentage. The Braves’ remaining games come against teams that have collectively logged a .477 winning percentage. The Cardinals’ remaining opponents have played .476 baseball combined.

— In going 6-7 so far this month the Mets scored 13 total runs for an average of 1.85 runs per defeat. The Braves have a potent offense but are letting games slip away. Beginning with his collapse in St. Louis on Aug. 27, closer Kenley Jansen has a 9.45 ERA and three blown saves in his last eight appearances.

“It’s still there for us,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s the old thing we’ve been talking about all year. It’s called, play better. We just need to play better.”

Jansen went with a similar theme: “The beauty of this game is, we’ve got 2 1/2 weeks left and we’re going to continue to get better,” he said. “Because all that matters is the postseason. But we’re going to get there. We’re going to get there by each day getting better.”

— Here are the projected season-end win totals from FanGraphs: Mets 100, Braves 99.2. Cardinals 94.5. (That’s based on thousands of simulations, and the projection is the average number of wins that come out of those game simulations.)

— To zoom by the NL East champ (Mets or Braves) the Cardinals can’t afford to get clogged by losses … especially those stinging, debilitating losses in games they should win. The Redbirds have to max out their win total and hope that the Mets and Braves keep stumbling. (New York and Atlanta will also play each other three times starting on Sept. 30.)

— John Denton pointed this out at MLB.com: “Two problems, however, are that STL loses the head-to-head tiebreakers vs. both the Mets & Braves. It will take a nearly flawless finish to get No. 2.” Yes.

— I think we’ll know a helluva lot more after the Cards’ upcoming eight-game road trip to San Diego, Los Angeles and Milwaukee. That trip presents two season-long challenges for the Cardinals: beating good teams, and winning on the road. This season the Cardinals are 8-16 in road games against winning opponents.

Oli Marmol’s Masterful Managing: As we keep saying here in The Review, the Cardinals have themselves a smart and resourceful manager. Wednesday, Marmol used 12 position players to bring home the victory over Milwaukee. Ten of the 12 reached base. Nine had hits, and sub-in center fielder Ben DeLuzio walked. Four Cardinals had an RBI, and four scored a run. And when Marmol wanted to field a better defense late in the game, he inserted Tyler O’Neill into left, moved Lars Nootbaar from center field to right field, sent DeLuzio into the game to play center, placed Paul DeJong in at shortstop, and switched Tommy Edman from shortstop to second base. And Marmol called in four different relievers to smother the Brewers over the final four innings.

Albert Pujols Should Play Most, If Not All, Of the Remaining Games: I don’t understand all of the anxiety about how Marmol will work Pujols onto his lineup card based on the other team’s starting pitcher. Look, Pujols has been doing an effective job against RH pitchers since the start of July. He was terrible against righties over the first three months. But since July 1 Pujols has a .265 average, .482 slugging percentage and .801 OPS vs. the righties. What’s the problem? Play him.

Is Someone Stirring? It was nothing loud or showy, but Paul Goldschmidt had a bounce-back type of game Wednesday with two hits and a walk. It was Goldy’s first multi-hit game since Sept. 3 and only his second game with at least two hits since Aug. 25.

Nice Notes On Waino: His 193 individual wins since the start of the 2007 season have him tied with Clayton Kershaw for fourth place over that time. Only Justin Verlander (225), Zack Greinke (209) and Max Scherzer (199) have more … Wainwright’s 107 individual-pitcher home wins are third in the majors since 2007 – behind Greinke (120) and Verlander (114) … among starting pitchers that have made at least 150 starts at home since 2007, Kershaw (2.23) and Wainwright (2.83) have the best home ERAs.

The Corey Story: Outfielder Corey Dickerson went 1 for 4 Wednesday to extend his hitting streak to eight games. He’s batted .344 during the streak and is hitting .409 in 88 at-bats since Aug. 11. In the first three months of the season Dickerson batted .194 and had a .531 OPS and we wondered why he still had a place on the team. Well, we got the answer; over the last two-plus months he’s hitting .364 with a .925 OPS.

Since the All-Star break, among MLB hitters with at least 110 plate appearances, Dickerson has a higher OPS (.953) than many notable players including Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman, Yordan Alvarez, Manny Machado, Austin Riley, Randy Arozarena, Pete Alonso and Jose Ramirez.

The Human Peppermill: Lars Nootbaar smashed a 452-foot solo homer off Corbin Burnes in Wednesday’s fifth inning. It was the longest drive at Busch Stadium this season. The missile gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead and increased their win expectancy to 82 percent. Nootbaar has wheezed to a .094 batting average this month – maybe he’s allergic to peppercorns? – but that doesn’t wipe out what he’s done for this team offensively since July 11.

Which is: Put up a .383 onbase percentage, .529 slug, .911 OPS, knock in 27 runs, walk 17.3 percent of the time, and crank 20 extra-base hits including 10 home runs. All of that in 196 plate appearances. Even with his freezing start to the season and severe September slump, Nootbaar has a .339 OBP and .443 slug this season … and an overall OPS+ that puts him 21 percent above league average offensively.

Bullpen Bounces Back: After a brutal six-game stretch that began Sept. 7 and lasted through Sept. 13, the Cardinal relievers did a fantastic job of protecting Wainwright’s lead to secure Wednesday’s meaningful win. The final four scoreless innings were handled (in order) by Andre Pallante, Jordan Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley. The four combined to strike out seven of 16 total batters faced (43.8%), and gave up two hits and a walk. The Brewers went 2 for 14 against the STL bullpen.

In the previous six games, Cards relievers were hammered for 21 earned runs in 20.2 innings for a 9.15 ERA. They were knocked around for five homers, a .378 batting average, 1.047 OPS – and struck out only 12.7 percent of the batters faced. Wednesday’s recovery was right on time. After Wainwright toughed it out by repressing numerous threats over five laborious innings, the bullpen couldn’t fail Waino or the team. The no-mess performance was reassuring.

Next On The Sked: The Cardinals are set for five games against the Reds at Busch Stadium including a doubleheader Saturday. The Reds come to St. Louis in a bad state, having lost six in a row. During the 0-6 crash the Reds have been outscored 35-15 by the Brewers and Pirates. The Reds batted .175 and slugged .280 over the six straight defeats. Cincinnati is 8-15 since Aug. 22, and has gone 15-25 since the trade deadline. The Reds’ .375 winning percentage since Aug. 2 ranks 25th among the 30 MLB teams.

Question: Does The Quality Of Your Regular-Season Record Matter In The Postseason? No. Not really. That’s the conclusion of Baseball Prospectus, which took a look at the question and used the Cardinals as an example. Writer David Mains noted how the Cardinals have beaten up (57-29) losing teams but have a losing record (27-30) against winning teams. Mains reminded everyone that if the Brewers fail to make the playoffs the miss can be blamed on their lousy showings against the Cubs, Pirates and Reds – the bad teams in their own division.

“It’s not all sweetness and light for the Redbirds,” Mains wrote of the Cardinals. “Their record against teams playing .500 or better is only (27-30), a .474 winning percentage.

“To succeed in the postseason, you hear, you have to be able to beat quality,” Mains continued. “Quality has beaten the Cardinals so far this season.”

So what does it mean for the Cardinals as they approach another postseason venture?

Excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Mains studied the 30-team era and the results of 96 division-round series, 48 league-championship series, and 24 World Series.

And?

“The conclusion here is that there isn’t one,” Mains wrote. “The team with the better record against winning teams has won 78 postseason series and lost 82. The team with the better record against losing teams has won 84 postseason series and lost 74. Those aren’t meaningful differences. Maybe it’s because these records don’t matter. Maybe it’s because, in a short series, as analyst Joe Sheehan says, variance swamps everything. But if the Brewers manage to find their way back into the playoffs, their subpar record against the Pirates, Reds, and Cubs shouldn’t portend doom. Nor should the Cardinals’ struggles against good clubs.”

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac. 

 

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.