ST. LOUIS — Deep in the bowels of Busch Stadium Wednesday morning sat Yadier Molina, going through the pregame regimen that has allowed him to remain a baseball stalwart for the past 18 years. Out of sight, in his Shangri-La, he conducted his pregame scouting report of the Nationals with right-hander Adam Wainwright, as the pair embarked on their 277th start together, inching towards another milestone in a chock-full year for the duo. It’s gameday in St. Louis. Inherently, it’s gameday for Molina.
They say hope springs eternal every April.
The Cardinals’ backstop caught the 2,000th game of his career in Wednesday’s series finale against the Nationals, becoming the sixth catcher in MLB history to reach such a mark.
Three Hall of Famers have done it. Three have done it while adding a couple hundred on top of the double millenia plateau. Only Iván Rodríguez has done it while amassing more Gold Glove Awards along the way.
None have done it with a single team.
“The way I put a record like that in the context, and I do that with Cal [Ripken Jr.’s] streak, is you start to put that into context of how many years that is of playing — in Cal’s case every day, in Yadi’s case most every day,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, who holds a close bond with Ripken’s “Iron Man” streak. “I don’t know which one is more impressive, but they’re amazing feats.
“You put 2,000 games in the context of a 162-game regular season, you say, ‘OK, if you caught every single game, how many years would that be?’ And you go, ‘Whoa.’ It’s amazing, especially when you see the evolution of the game.”
That’s the key word, evolution. Molina, publicly unrivaled in dedication to his craft and to annual improvement as his game is forced to evolve with age, has yielded some of the best results at the plate in his career this season. Small sample granted, he is batting .353/.410/.588 with two homers and a 178 OPS+ through the first 10 starts of 2021.
His first homer of the season was a game-winner in Miami. The second, on Monday, came after the 12,894 at Busch Stadium broke out into “Ya-di!” chants. Like he’s done 1,999 times before (and on more occasions at other positions), Molina delivered.
“Those habits, when guys are doing that, that’s what makes them special, right?” Shildt said. “ … There’s just a lot of different factors into that that in of [themselves] are impressive, but collectively are very, when you think about it in these terms, rarefied air.”
It’s no accident who Molina threw to for Game 2,000. Receiving his first day off of the season in Tuesday’s trouncing of the Nationals, Molina lined up to catch Wainwright on Wednesday. It marked the duo’s 277th game started together — sixth most in MLB history.
In six starts, that mark becomes the fourth most.
But that’s a milestone for another day.