By Rob Rains
There was nothing notable that happened in Tyler O’Neill’s life on Sept. 9, 2010; there wasn’t a reason why he should remember that day.
It was a Thursday, and O’Neill was a 15-year-old sophomore at his British Columbia high school. Wondering where he would be more than 11 years in the future, on April 7, 2022, wasn’t even fathomable.
There really wasn’t a reason then for Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina or Albert Pujols to remember that day – 4,228 days ago – either – until Thursday.
The significance of that day was that it was the last time those three players all were in the starting lineup for the Cardinals until Thursday’s season-opening 9-0 win against the Pirates at Busch Stadium.
It became a day they won’t soon forget – and neither will O’Neill.
Wainwright threw six scoreless innings and while neither Pujols, in his return to the Cardinals, or Molina got a hit, they led the team in standing ovations from a sold-out crowd that welcomed the start of what could turn out to be a historic reunion for three of the greatest players in franchise history.
On day one, however, they had to share the headlines and cheers with O’Neill, who drove in a career-high five runs with a single in the first inning, a three-run homer in the second and a sacrifice fly as the Cardinals blew the game open with a four-run inning that featured homers from Tommy Edman and Nolan Arenado.
O’Neill became the first Cardinal to homer on three consecutive opening days, and became only the third player in team history with five RBI on opening day, the first to do it since 1928.
He was happy to share the cheers from the 42,256 fans, who were treated to a special pre-game video and a special home-plate greeting for Wainwright, Molina and Pujols with 16 members of the Cardinals Hall of Fame on hand for the pre-game ceremony.
“Waino is a walking Cardinals legend,” O’Neill said. “We got to see it in the hallway on TV (waiting for the pre-game parade). Unfortunately we couldn’t hear the loudest roars but they were there all game. And I’m sure they are going to be there next game.”
Wainwright knew it was going to be a special day even before he got to the stadium.
“There was really bad traffic pulling in,” Wainwright said. “I was sitting there just watching people. Everybody was just out there having a blast.
“I got around the city area about 11 o’clock (for the 3:15 p.m. game) and it was just totally jammed. I was thinking about taking alternate routes and I said, ‘You know what, I want to be in this. I’m just going to be patient. I’m already prepared, I’m ready to go. If this traffic lasts until 30 minutes before the game I’m fine.’ For the first time in my life I enjoyed sitting in traffic.”
He also enjoyed being on the mound, allowing just five hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out six as he won the 100th game of his career at Busch Stadium.
The six shutout innings extended Wainwright’s streak of consecutive scoreless innings against the Pirates to 32 innings.
It was the Cardinals’ largest margin of victory on opening day since 1982,a 14-3 win at Houston, and the largest shutout win on opening day in team history.
Between the last time Wainwright, Molina and Pujols were all together in the lineup in 2010 and Thursday, Wainwright made 241 starts; Molina played in 1,393 games. Pujols played one more season for the Cardinals, the world championship year of 2011, which Wainwright missed because of an elbow injury, before signing with the Angels as a free agent.
His return came on the day that Oli Marmol managed his first game for the Cardinals. Back in 2010, Marmol had just completed an undistinguished playing career in the low levels of the organization’s farm system. He was months away from beginning his coaching career in rookie ball.
Just like O’Neill, trying to predict where he would be more than 11 years later would have been impossible – but he will have every reason to remember what happened on Thursday.
“The coolest part for me is all the red jackets lined up,” Marmol said, “being able to shake their hands and know the history that we have here, having some responsibility to carry that on.”
He watched as Molina, Wainwright and Pujols were saluted, knowing one day – in the not-too-distant future – they will be wearing a red jacket too.
“It was a special moment and I was able to soak it in,” Marmol said.
He wasn’t alone.
“That ceremony they did for us, I was worried I wasn’t even going to be able to pitch,” Wainwright said. “They were trying to make me cry out there. It was unbelievable.
“I really didn’t know how I was going to react to that. I didn’t think it was going to faze me, but I was fazed by it. As soon as Ozzie Smith started to smile, I started tearing up. I had to look away, tried to laugh, tried to kind of play it off, but I was kind of emotional.”
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Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports