For Yadier Molina to be the star of Adam Wainwright’s 100th career win was fitting.
After all, Molina was behind the plate nearly seven years ago when Wainwright won his first start, giving up one run over seven innings in a 4-2 victory at Houston. Molina since has caught most of Wainwright’s wins — and losses. The two have developed such a rapport, there are times when Molina doesn’t need to put down a sign.
The Cardinals’ battery certainly appeared in sync in the Cardinals’ Opening Day 1-0 win at Cincinnati on Monday afternoon. Wainwright allowed three hits, struck out nine and did not let a runner reach third base in his seven innings.
After not walking more than three in a game last year, and that many only once, Wainwright walked four Reds, though one was intentional. Also, he had two strikes on two of the others, so it wasn’t like his control was lacking.
His outing needed to be sharp because Reds starter Johnny Cueto was just about as good. Cueto made one mistake, hanging a cutter with one out in the seventh that Molina — who else? — smacked into the left-field seats to lead the Cardinals and his buddy Wainwright to the victory.
Molina also started a double play with a heads-up pounce on a Joey Votto squibbler in front of the plate, and he singled to account for two of the Cardinals’ five hits.
Remember the excitement Reds speedster Billy Hamilton generated when he stole his first two bases in the majors on Molina last September? It looked to be a confrontation worth watching for a long time; the game’s fastest player versus the game’s best throwing catcher.
There is, of course, one minor detail required to make that happen. Before he can try to steal, Hamilton has to get on base. Last year, when he was called up, he was used extensively as a pinch-runner. This year, he is taking over the leadoff spot for departed Shin-Soo Choo. He has to get on base for himself.
Against Wainwright, Hamilton not only didn’t reach base, he didn’t even hit the ball. He struck out in all four at-bats against the Cardinals’ starter, three times flailing on curveballs. Two of them bounced in the dirt.
Hamilton hit .327 and posted a .381 OBP in spring training, so he has shown the ability to get on base. The opener likely was a case of a rookie being baffled by one of the game’s best curveballs. He would not be the first.
ABOUT THAT NEW AND IMPROVED DEFENSE
The error by new center fielder Peter Bourjos was difficult to criticize, but the Cardinals were fortunate to make three errors and still not give up a run.
Bourjos’ error was even forgivable largely because few center fielders would have been able to get to Brayan Pena’s liner to left-center that led off the fifth. Also, Bourjos had taken away a hit from the Reds with a running catch he made on Jay Bruce in the first. Who knows, because two were out and Brandon Phillips was on first, the Reds could have scored on the play if the ball had gotten away from Bourjos.
Matt Adams and Kolten Wong, the new right side of the infield, both committed errors on routine plays that made for an interesting eighth inning. Wong seemed to be thinking about stepping on second base before he let a routine grounder slip past him that put Reds on second and third with no outs.
A heads-up play by Adams saved one run. When Jay Bruce grounded softly to first, Adams fielded the ball and looked toward Phillips, who was heading home. Adams quickly closed in on Phillips, who had no place to go and was out in a simple 3-5 rundown.
Wong was making amends for his miscue on the next play when he fielded a Ryan Ludwick grounder and made an on-target throw to second for what should have been an inning-ending double play. Adams, however, dropped a good throw from Jhonny Peralta that left Votto on third and Todd Frazier with a chance to tie the game.
Frazier had two hits and a walk against Wainwright but proved no match for reliever Carlos Martinez. He struck out Frazier on four pitches, the last one a breaking pitch that had him heading to the dugout before the umpire had finished calling strike three.
ADAMS HANDLES THE SHIFT
With defensive shifts becoming more and more in vogue, Adams figures to see his share of them when he hits this season. That is, unless he continues to do what he did against the Reds.
The Reds positioned their third baseman, Frazier, on the right side of the field when the lefty-hitting Adams batted because of his ability to pull. But Adams beat the shift in his first two at-bats when he slapped the ball to the opposite field for a single and a double. They were the Cardinals’ only hits until Molina’s homer.
The shift worked once, in the seventh, when Adams flied to Frazier in short right field. The ball, however, was soft enough that it probably would have been caught if the Reds had been positioned in their normal stations.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.