Series Finales are never what you want them to be. They never leave you satisfied. Even if they do appropriately break your heart, they rarely feel complete. Personally, I hate Series Finales.
But have you ever imagined what it must be like to write one? I mean, you literally get to decide how everything ends. But how do you possibly recall all the highlights of what feels like a lifetime of stories AND wrap up all the relevant loose ends AND adequately imply that everything works out in the future just like you have always hoped it will …all in one last episode?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’ve started to write this piece a handful of times, and if I was writing with pen to paper, I’d have an entire waste basket full of crumpled up bad ideas.
See, today has the distinct possibility of being the Series Finale of the Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright show. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve been mourning it for days already. So, why don't you and I celebrate it instead?
Adam Wainwright has thrown 1,927 innings in his major league career. Yadier Molina has caught 1,626.1 of them. Today will be the 286th game for the two… which, if you’re keeping track, is way more episodes than necessary for six seasons and a movie. And while someone like Zach Gifford could probably tell you what that means in Xs and Os (and obviously, a good graph or three), all I can tell you is that it means there are far more highlights to recount than one last episode can possibly provide.
It's easy to go back to the first highlight.
The 2006 season was a wild one for the Birds. A young Adam Wainwright took over the closer role late in the year, as has become Cardinal tradition. But no one could have expected the youngster to throw that pitch at that moment. Except Yadi. Just a baby himself, Molina called for Uncle Charlie to Carlos Beltran in the NLCS... but not before surprising even Wainwright with the setup to that moment.
“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."
The 2007 season gave us the duo's first of an eventual 22 complete games, although this one didn't have the storybook ending like we'd see later on. It was August 10, at home against the Dodgers. Wainwright threw a total of 121 pitches that night, holding LA scoreless through 8.1 innings. Then, with 1 on and 1 out in a 0-0 game, James Loney launched a 2-run homer that cost Waino and Yadi the shutout... and eventually, cost the Cardinals the win.
But not to worry. The two were just getting warmed up.
(Sidebar: How do they not have a duo name? "Molinwright"? "Adaier"? "Wai-lina"? Ok... maybe that's why. Nevermind.)
The 2009 season was the first of many award hauls for both players. Molina was an All Star, while Waino picked up Cy Young Award votes for the first time. Both would earn Gold Gloves, and both would land on Most Valuable Player ballots -- something that would become a bit of a trend over the course of their parallel careers.
The 2010 season was when things really started to get good. With a fascinating supporting cast that included Chris Carpenter, Albert Pujols, Jaime Garcia, Skip Schumaker, Colby Rasmus, and Brendan Ryan, Molina caught five Wainwright complete games, including the first two shutouts of his big league career. One came on June 4th in a 8-0 victory over the Brewers, the other on August 6 in a 7-0 defeat of the Marlins. Combined, the battery mates worked 18 innings of 4 hit baseball, striking out 15 on just over 100 pitches per game (103 and 110 respectively).
Alas, that season also foreshadowed what we'll call "the lost seasons" that were to come. Wainwright was scratched from his final start that year with elbow trouble. As we all know, he'd miss the entirety of the next season due to Tommy John surgery. And that meant it would be someone else leaping into the arms of the then- 3-time All Star backstop when the World Series confetti rained down in October 2011.
But, every good series has its dark days. They make the comeback that much sweeter.
That was the 2013 season. The Cardinals won 97 games that year to win the National League Central by three games over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wainwright posted a sub-three ERA for the third time in his career while throwing the most innings he'd ever thrown -- 241.2 total -- 216.1 of which were thrown to Molina. There were five more complete games, two more shutouts. Both guys were All Stars, and again, both received MVP votes.
And that was before the postseason.
Wainwright pitched games one and five of the National League Division Series against the Pirates. While many of the postseason pitching accolades from that year go to Michael Wacha (and rightfully so) it was Wainwright who bookended the series with ace-like performances. Seven innings allowing one run in the first game, nine innings allowing one run in the fifth and deciding game.
That, however, is when things went terribly off script, or the writers fell into some deep, dark hole and decided to rain torment down on Cardinal Nation (or maybe they simply ran out of magic). While Wainwright would pitch again in the NLCS and later the World Series, then again in the 2014 playoffs, he'd not pick up another postseason win.
Then there was the Achilles season. Then another elbow year. Molina would nearly sever his thumb, and suffer the consequences (and the battle wounds) of trying to pilot many a young flamethrower to the kind of success Wainwright has had.
And that brings us here. One last time.*
The 2018 season has been unlike any other. Wainwright has made just seven starts prior to today. Molina's Hall of Fame case has been called into question despite the 36-year-old's resurgence both at the plate and behind it. The Cardinals' fate is mostly out of their hands now, but don't think that means Molina and Wainwright -- the heartbeat of St. Louis baseball for so many years -- don't have something to prove.
It's nearly impossible to script the perfect Series Finale. (The "Scrubs" writers came pretty close, though...) It's futile to try to condense a decade of moments into the perfect end cap. Is it a perfect game? A shutout? Simply five innings that keep the Cubs at bay? I couldn't begin to do this story justice.
But if this is, in fact, the end of the Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright show, one thing is for certain: we're all incredibly lucky to have watched it. As far as I'm concerned, there are no two competitors more relentless, no two Cardinals more committed, no two humanitarians more invested, and no two teammates more complimentary of one another than Waino and Yadi. It's hard to imagine one becoming everything they are without the other. And perhaps that's the only Final(e) thought we really need.
*Adam, if you’re reading this, please don’t call me out or block me on twitter. I’m not saying this IS the end… I’m just saying, we don’t know if the show got picked up for another season yet. I'm trying to tie a nice bow on it, just in case.