Wainwright, acquired in a trade with Atlanta as a minor leaguer, has never played for another team in the majors. Molina is also a career Cardinal, and he signed a three-year, $60 million contract extension this month that takes him through his 38th birthday. Wainwright is signed through next season, when he turns 37.
“It’s important for me to be on the same team,” Molina said. “We love the organization, we love this team, we love to stay together. It was a big deal for me.”
Molina said he clicked immediately with Wainwright, from the first time he caught him at Class AAA Memphis in 2004. Now they understand each other so well that they can sometimes choose pitches with only a look, no signal required.
In their most famous moment together, at the end of Game 7 in the 2006 National League Championship Series at Shea Stadium, the rookie Wainwright implicitly trusted Molina on what first pitch he should throw to the Mets’ Carlos Beltran. In a conference on the mound, they had talked about starting with a fastball. But behind the plate Molina changed the call, and Wainwright went along.
“The first pitch set up the whole at-bat,” Wainwright said. “Changeup, bases loaded, my fourth best pitch? There’s no possible way anyone could ever look for that. I would have never thought of that.
“In that spot, a couple of things happened,” Wainwright continued. “One, I had complete confidence and trust in Yadier. Two, I had just a ton of moxie at the time; I still have a lot of moxie, but I had a lot right there.
“And at that point I’m not sure I really knew how hard the game was, at that level. In my mind, when he put it down there, it just made sense to me. Of course, if I give up a double right there, I probably would have never gotten back to the big leagues.”
Beltran took that surprise changeup, and then took a hellacious third-strike curveball to seal the pennant for St. Louis. Wainwright would close out the World Series against Detroit, too; after the final strikeout, he and Molina leapt in joy, bumping chests in midair. It was an awkward but happy memory.
“A couple of pups,” Wainwright said, laughing. “No matter how many times you practice that or think about what you’re gonna do, you don’t really know what you’re gonna do till you’re in that moment. Those moments are the greatest — I need another one.”
The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010. Wainwright, a two-time 20-game winner, had a career-high 4.62 earned run average after missing most of the previous year with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. He pitched well in his first start this season but struggled in his second.
“It becomes more important to stay ahead when you have less stuff, because if you fall behind with less stuff, then that means you have to come in with a predictable pitch — with less stuff,” said Tim McCarver, the Cardinals broadcaster and a former catcher.
“Adam, sure enough, in his first start this year had 17 out of 21 first-pitch strikes, and that’s the way to go about it,” McCarver continued. “It’s more imperative to stay ahead. And they definitely have a connection, there’s no question about it. You can feel that when you see them work together. That’s important.”
McCarver worked with Steve Carlton for 228 starts, helping guide Carlton to two Cy Young Awards. Wainwright has four top-three finishes for the award, but he ceded the opening-day role this season to Carlos Martinez. As the team evolves, Wainwright is happy the catcher never changes. No disrespect to others, he said, but there is only one Yadier Molina.
“He’s been a rock for me,” Wainwright said. “If I had my choice, I’d never throw to any other catcher — ever.”
A Disabled List for a New Age
There’s an addition to the baseball vocabulary this season: the 10-day disabled list, a new wrinkle in the labor agreement ratified during the off-season.
It replaces the 15-day disabled list, a staple for years that had come to frustrate teams. If an injury required fewer than 15 days to heal — but more than a handful — teams often had to play short-handed, a challenge in an age of increased bullpen usage. The 10-day standard seemed more reasonable.
“For a team with depth, I think it helps,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president for baseball operations. “The season is long, and often you play four or five days with a guy not able. But if you have really good replacements and depth, then it’s easier to play at full strength throughout the season.”
It stands to reason that teams will use the 10-day disabled list more often than they did the old one, to keep a fresh roster. Through Wednesday, though, usage was about the same. According to Major League Baseball, teams had used the disabled list 113 times, compared with 111 on the same date in 2016.
Series Hero to ‘Dancing’ Star
Some of the loudest cheers at the Chicago Cubs’ ring ceremony last week were for David Ross, the retired backup catcher. Ross, 40, has stayed busy since hitting a home run in Game 7 of the World Series and being carried off the field in Cleveland. He has taken jobs with the Cubs’ front office, ESPN and “Dancing With The Stars.”
For a guy who played with seven teams in 15 years, batted .229 and was never a full-time starter, it’s all a bit surreal.
“I really feel like I am the luckiest man ever,” Ross said. “Like, I’ve got a book coming out — I can’t even read; how do I have a book coming out? And somebody bought the rights to my book to make a movie. And I’m on ‘Dancing With The Stars.’ And I did ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Ellen.’ I’ve been doing some charity things. Eddie Vedder gave me a shout-out in Game 5. Like, who am I? I don’t even know anymore. It’s so crazy.”
Underpinning all of it, Ross said, is his unimpressive set of statistics, including six seasons with averages below .205. That makes his popularity even more meaningful, he said, because people must like him for his character, not for his numbers. He said he felt unworthy to be a featured celebrity on the dance show.
“Mr. T’s on there — how cool is that?” Ross said. “I’m like, how am I in the same room as Mr. T? He’s cool, he’s a Chicago guy. He’s actually said he’s my teammate now because we’re representing Chicago. I feel really blessed.”
Ross joked that when he returned to Wrigley, he was surprised not to find a statue in his honor next to the one of Ernie Banks. It might not have been as crazy as the rest of his charmed life.
“Listen, I know exactly where I belong — .220,” Ross said. “Look at the back of my baseball card. It’s scary.”
One Way to Add Protein to Your Snacks
Every new season brings curious cuisine to the ballpark. The San Diego Padres now sell a sandwich of pulled pork, pork schnitzel and bacon. The Pittsburgh Pirates offer a kielbasa Reuben. Fans of the Kansas City Royals can buy hot dogs topped with bacon, cheese, gravy and a fried egg.
But for pure adventure, nobody comes close to the Seattle Mariners. In a plaza beyond the center-field wall at Safeco Field, at a cantina named for Edgar Martinez, the Mariners sell toasted grasshoppers, tossed in chili lime salt, for $4.
“It’s got a little spice, kind of tangy and salty,” said Steve Dominguez, the Centerplate general manager at Safeco Field. “In our business, that stimulates a beverage order as well, kind of like peanuts and pretzels. They taste great as a topper.”
The fans seem to agree. The Mariners ran out of the dish at their first two home games last week, selling 310 four-ounce containers each day — or more than 30 pounds of grasshoppers per game. Now the Mariners plan to set the allotment at 312 per game, coinciding with Martinez’s career .312 batting average.
Jay Buhner, the former Mariners slugger, enjoyed some grasshoppers on Tuesday, and Todd Kalas, the broadcaster for the visiting Houston Astros, munched on a few in the press box. The Mariners said they sold more grasshoppers in the first home series than Poquitos — the restaurant that provides them — sells all year. Poquitos had to order an emergency shipment from Mexico in time for Friday’s college-night promotion.
“Quite honestly, before we did this, I didn’t know there was such a big push for insect protein,” Dominguez said. “All of a sudden I’m getting inundated with vendors wanting to sell me crickets and ants.
“Just to be clear, we won’t be doing that. We’re not going to have a stand devoted to insects.”