ST. LOUIS — For the Cardinals, walking off with a 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night left the clubhouse music blaring and everyone in fine spirits. They came back after blowing a 3-0 lead early and a one-run lead late to move 10 games over .500 for the first time in a month.
"Every win we’re digging our heels in," manager Mike Matheny said. "That’s what I love about this club. There’s a lot of character to this club."
There also was a longer-lasting development to emerge from the St. Louis success. The Cardinals very likely buried the Reds’ playoff chances and reduced the NL Central to a three-team race, if it already wasn’t.
For the Reds to win 90 games as they did last year to earn one of the two NL wild cards, they would have to finish 29-8. Even if it takes only 86 wins to secure a wild card this year, the Reds would need to go 25-12 over the final six weeks. Good luck with that, considering the injuries they’ve piled up.
The past three games have been nothing short of devastating for Cincinnati. The Reds were swept at Colorado on Sunday, blowing a four-run lead in the ninth inning in the first game and a 5-2 seventh-inning lead in the second. Then they had to fly to St. Louis, where they finally arrived at their hotel around 4 a.m.
And then they rallied twice to take leads against the Cardinals, only for the comebacks to go for naught as they suffered their 30th one-run loss of the season (against 18 wins).
Of course, don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for the Reds. Especially not the Cardinals. They know as well as any team what it’s like to lose gut-wrenchers, but they had timely hitting on their side in this one.
Jhonny Peralta delivered the winner with one out in the 10th when he lofted a fly ball over the head of left fielder Ryan Ludwick to score Matt Holliday. Holliday started the winning rally with a single and moved to third on Matt Adams’ third hit of the night.
With a short bench (Mark Ellis was out) and depleted bullpen (Pat Neshek was unavailable), Matheny admitted the Cardinals would have faced tough decisions if the game had gone any longer.
"We’ll take whatever we can to get out of there," Matheny said. "Guys put together a couple of tough at-bats. Jhonny comes up and does exactly what we needed him to do right there. That was huge."
The Reds probably would agree, though they would not be smiling.
— Holliday. Sore knee and all, Holliday scored the winning run after he singled with one out in the 10th and went to third on Adams’ single before coming in on Peralta’s winner. Holliday earlier had ended an 0-for-18 skid with a run-scoring single in the third inning. He also walked and scored and hit a fly to center that was caught on the warning track.
Before the game, Matheny said Holliday’s playing time could be reduced in the coming weeks. "There’s times you’re going to see him come out of the game when it starts to tighten up on him," the manager said. "(If he) thinks it is hindering what he can do out there with his jumps or how he finishes his swing. We’re going to be cautious."
— Carlos Martinez. He looked sharp in his first outing after an 18-day regroup in the minors. Called on with the Reds up 4-3 after five innings, Martinez worked two scoreless frames, allowing only a double to Reds starter Mike Leake. Martinez struck out the first two batters he faced on seven pitches — all strikes — and ended up throwing 24 total. In his previous four outings with the Cardinals before he was sent down, Martinez had allowed 13 runs in 15 1/3 innings.
"He looked good," Matheny said. "That was first time he and A.J. (Pierzynski) worked together. A.J. made him use a couple different pitches that we hadn’t seen him use. He was really effective with the changeup. The fastball looked good and lively. He came back very motivated to do something different than what he did before."
— Rehabbing Cardinals. Both Yadier Molina and Michael Wacha were getting in their work on the field before and during batting practice. Wacha threw a 35-pitch bullpen session that Matheny said "looked really close to what we normally would see when he’s out there." Wacha said he was throwing at about 75 percent intensity.
Both were encouraged by the outing and Matheny said Wacha will throw another bullpen Wednesday. The Cardinals are hoping he can make a rehab start in the minors before the end of the month. Molina, stationed at shortstop during BP, took some grounders and lobbed the ball back still wearing a brace on his surgically repaired right thumb. It’s possible Molina could be cleared to swing a bat by week’s end.
— Justin Masterson. He didn’t allow a run in his first four innings and, thanks to a well-turned 5-4-3 double play, he even got away with walking the first two Reds he faced in the fourth. But Masterson’s night went south in the fifth when he was roughed up for four runs, the big damage coming on a three-run homer by .222-hitting Jay Bruce. In four starts with St. Louis, Masterson has worked a total of 19 innings and allowed 14 earned runs.
— Trevor Rosenthal. Yes, ball four to Billy Hamilton looked like a strike. But Rosenthal should not have put himself in a situation where he was one pitch from walking the speedy leadoff hitter. Not surprisingly, walking him led to trouble. Hamilton stole second and went to third when Pierzynski’s rushed throw bounced into center field. The error didn’t matter, though, when Bruce lined a double down the right-field line to tie the game and give Rosenthal his fifth blown save in 41 chances.
— Rookie "luck." The scorecard reads that Oscar Taveras struck out on a called strike three in his first at-bat. But the scorecard doesn’t tell the whole story. The scorecard doesn’t say that strike two was a line drive ripped down the right-field line that landed foul by inches. The scorecard doesn’t tell you that strike three was outside by several inches. So while you can believe what the scorecard says, remember there could be more to the square than a backward K stands for.