Albert Pujols Yadier Molina

October 2, 2022: Cardinals bid farewell to Pujols and Molina

In a 2022 season that saw Albert Pujols eclipse 700 home runs and the Cardinals win the National League Central Division, nothing surpassed the image of Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright walking side by side as they left the playing field at Busch Stadium together for the final time in their careers.

The Cardinals’ final home game of the season – an October 3 contest against the Pittsburgh Pirates – had long been earmarked as a special occasion. That March, Pujols returned to the Cardinals for what he announced would be the final season of his 22-year career. Molina too had announced that 2022 would mark his final season, concluding a 19-year career in St. Louis.

When the Cardinals announced a pregame ceremony honoring the careers of Pujols and Molina, it was clear that Wainwright – who made his debut in 2005 – would play an important role, even though he was schedule to pitch that day. Wainwright had not announced whether he planned to return for 2023.

“I declined at first because I knew it was going to be in my warmup,” Wainwright said. “And I was asked again and I thought, you know what, this is a special time for those two and I feel like I owe it to them to be a part of it. I wouldn’t have done it if I was a second-year player. But I’ve been here a long time and been teammates with them a long time and felt like I ought to. I wouldn’t miss that.”[1]

“He could have done it a lot of different ways but he wanted to make sure it was special for those two guys,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, noting that Wainwright could have filmed his remarks in advance.[2]

Instead, Wainwright altered his pregame routine to be part of an on-field ceremony that saw Cardinals Hall of Famers Ray Lankford, Jason Isringhausen, and Matt Holliday in attendance to honor their former teammate. The ceremony included remarks from owner Bill DeWitt Jr., president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, Wainwright, and Pujols and Molina.

The team gifted both players with golf clubs and embroidered golf bags, plaques outlining their career accomplishments, and paintings commissioned from Puerto Rican artist Carlos Mercado. St. Louis mayor Tishaura O. Jones presented official proclamations from the city declaring that October 4 would be Yadier Molina Day and October 5 would be Albert Pujols Day. Molina, of course, wore No. 4 throughout most of his career (he wore No. 41 in 2004 and 2005) and Pujols wore No. 5 throughout his Cardinals career (he wore No. 55 with the Dodgers in 2021).

“It is extraordinary when you have the opportunity to see two young players play together and you watch their friendship become a brotherhood,” said Mozeliak, who drafted both players. “It is a special friendship that became family.”[3]

Even Pirates closer David Bednar was impressed. “How long have those guys been doing it?” he said. “To see them celebrated, it was really cool to watch.”[4]

It was a moment that seemed impossible after Pujols signed with the Angels following the 2011 season. His return, however, was just the beginning. After batting just .215/.301/.376 for a .676 OPS and an OPS+ of just 92 (8% below league average) during the first half, Pujols returned to the form so many Cardinals fans remembered.

“I’m really blessed to be back here and to finish my career where everything started for me,” Pujols said. “If you look around, the history of this organization is all about winning, from bringing guys here that can play the game and developing them in the system. … There’s no better feeling than to raise a championship trophy at the end of the year.”[5]

Pujols acknowledged his second-half resurgence in his pregame remarks.

“I have faith in the Lord, and there’s no way he brought me back to the city of St. Louis to embarrass myself,” he said.[6]

When the 40-minute ceremony concluded and the game began, Pujols continued his hot hitting. After Wainwright threw a 1-2-3 first inning, marking his record 328th start with Molina as his catcher, Pujols got the Cardinals out to an early lead with a two-run double. Two batters later, Molina hit a sacrifice fly that scored Pujols and gave the Cardinals an early 3-0 lead.

It was as if the first inning had been scripted by the baseball gods.

The Pirates, however, were determined to play spoiler. Jack Suwinski drew a leadoff walk and Calvin Mitchell singled for Pittsburgh before Ben Gamel hit a three-run homer to right field to tie the game. An inning later, rookie shortstop Oneil Cruz singled and stole second, then scored on a sacrifice fly that gave the Pirates a 4-3 lead.

In the bottom of the third, Pujols stepped to the plate for what would prove to be the final regular-season at-bat of his career in St. Louis. Facing Roansy Contreras, a rookie righthander and fellow native of the Dominican Republic, Pujols hammered the second pitch he saw over the center-field wall.

It marked the 702nd home run of his career and tied him with Babe Ruth for second all-time with 2,214 career RBIs. Only Henry Aaron, with 2,297, had more.

The home run gave Pujols 23 homers for the year and 17 in 153 at-bats since the all-star break.

“He always rises to the occasion in big moments,” Wainwright said.[7]

In the fourth, after Wainwright threw another 1-2-3 inning, outfielder Dylan Carlson and shortstop Paul DeJong hit back-to-back doubles to regain the lead, 5-4. Although Wainwright originally had been slated to throw approximately 50 pitches and had already thrown 61, he returned for the fifth inning with a chance to earn the win.

It wasn’t meant to be.

Pirates second baseman Ji Hwan Bae led off the fifth with a single before Cruz followed with a double. After Wainwright struck out Bryan Reynolds, Miguel Andujar hit a ground ball that scored Bae and Suwinski hit an RBI single to score Cruz.

With the Pirates leading 6-5, Wainwright’s day was over. When Marmol emerged from the dugout to relieve Wainwright in favor of left-hander Zack Thompson, Wainwright was joined by Molina and Pujols. Together, the three Cardinals legends walked side-by-side off the field.

“That was a surprise,” Wainwright said. “I thought that was cool.”[8]

After Thompson struck out Rodolfo Castro on three pitches, Wainwright’s line was complete: six earned runs on six hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings. He finished with four strikeouts.

“I was proud to walk off the field with those guys even though I was pouting a little bit,” he said. “It still was a good moment for me to say I was teammates with two of the greatest ever. That was a cool time for Albert and Yadi and our whole team to see how St. Louis celebrates some of the greatest players, not just Cardinals, but players ever.”[9]

After the game, Marmol said he regretted not removing them one inning earlier. Wainwright wouldn’t have been eligible for the win, which requires the starter to go five innings, but he would have left the game with the lead.[10]

Wainwright had allowed just five runs over his previous nine starts against the Pirates.

“We had a really good approach,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “We did a nice job with the breaking ball, which we had not done in the past. We made him execute pitches. We made him work. That’s a challenge for a young group of players, but I thought they did a really nice job sticking to the game plan.”[11]

The Pirates added just one more run when Reynolds homered off Thompson in the seventh to make the final score 7-5. After Contreras and Pirates reliever Chase De Jong got Pittsburgh into the fifth inning, Duane Underwood Jr., Yohan Ramirez, Robert Stephenson, and Bednar combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings. De Jong earned his sixth win of the season and Bednar earned his 19th save.

“Really proud of our guys,” Shelton said. “There was a lot of stuff going on and we battled. You get down 3-0 early with a young group, you could go away. We didn’t. We came right back, had good at-bats, and made things happen. We ran the bases well. This was definitely a growing moment.”[12]

With a sellout crowd of 46,680, the Cardinals’ season attendance exceeded 3.32 million, far exceeding the 2.75 million the Cardinals estimated prior to the season. Vice president of ticket sales Joe Strohm credited Pujols for the difference, estimating that the legend’s return and chase for 700 home runs drew an additional 500,000 fans.[13]

St. Louis finished with 93 wins to win the National League Central Division by seven games. Though the Cardinals hosted both games of the Wild Card Series, the Phillies swept the series on their way to the National League championship. As a result, the Cardinals’ final regular-season home game proved the best farewell St. Louis could offer for Molina and Pujols – at least until they received an invitation to Cooperstown.

“As part of DeWitt’s remarks, he acknowledged the Cardinals have had at least one person in uniform who is inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame every year since 1909,” wrote St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Benjamin Hochman. “Pujols and Molina will be a part of that stretch when their times come, and in so doing, will be as permanently embedded in the national baseball consciousness as they are locally, legends among legends, secure in their circle.[14]


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[1] Rick Hummel, “A big send-off for Pujols, Molina; Waino struggles,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2022.

[2] Rick Hummel, “A big send-off for Pujols, Molina; Waino struggles,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2022.

[3] Benjamin Hochman, “Powerful ceremony honored two greats,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2022.

[4] Jason Mackey, “Pirates play role of spoilers,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 3, 2022.

[5] Benjamin Hochman, “Powerful ceremony honored two greats,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2022.

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_r9-4S4gu_w

[7] Rick Hummel, “A big send-off for Pujols, Molina; Waino struggles,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2022.

[8] Rick Hummel, “A big send-off for Pujols, Molina; Waino struggles,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2022.

[9] Rick Hummel, “A big send-off for Pujols, Molina; Waino struggles,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2022.

[10] Rick Hummel, “A big send-off for Pujols, Molina; Waino struggles,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2022.

[11] Jason Mackey, “Pirates play role of spoilers,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 3, 2022.

[12] Jason Mackey, “Pirates play role of spoilers,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 3, 2022.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Mikolas and Quintana set to pitch on Monday,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2022.

[14] Jeff Jones, “Cardinals’ game vs. Pirates all about Pujols, Molina, Waino,” Belleville News-Democrat, October 4, 2022.

 

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