CINCINNATI — Even with their recent slump, the St. Louis Cardinals still lead the National League in scoring runs – by a wide margin, too.
That slump can’t last very long, can it?
Homer Bailey pitched the first seven innings of a two-hitter, and Billy Hamilton got his first steal in the majors and scored on Todd Frazier’s double in the seventh inning Tuesday night, sending the Cincinnati Reds to a 1-0 victory.
St. Louis was blanked for the third time in the last six games. All three shutouts have come against NL Central rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, part of a three-team race for the playoffs.
“We’ve got an offense that’s played a lot of games this year and done extremely well,” manager Mike Matheny said. “You can’t start trying to reinvent the wheel. It was just a tough night.”
It turned on Hamilton’s blink-of-an-eye debut, one that the Cardinals had awaited.
Hamilton set a professional record by swiping 155 bases in the minors last year. He got an ovation when he made his big league debut as a pinch runner for Ryan Ludwick, who led off the seventh with a single against Seth Maness (5-2).
The 20,219 fans in the stands and everyone on the field and in the dugouts knew what was coming. Hamilton was about to test one of the toughest catchers in the game. Could he outrun catcher Yadier Molina’s throw?
After Maness threw to first three times, Hamilton took off and beat an off-target throw from Molina, who rushed a bit.
“He was just another baserunner,” Maness said. “We know he’s fast, but you treat him no different. Get the ball to the plate quick and make the throw.
“It was a bang-bang play. That’s baseball.”
Hamilton scored easily on Frazier’s hit and got congratulatory slaps in the dugout.
Bailey (10-10) allowed two hits and retired his last 14 batters. Aroldis Chapman threw four pitches that registered 103 mph while fanning the heart of the Cardinals’ order in the ninth for his 34th save in 39 chances.
By taking the first two in the four-game series, the Reds snapped the Cardinals’ streak of winning seven straight series between the NL Central rivals. St. Louis is 10-7 against Cincinnati this season.
The head-to-head opportunities are dwindling. Second-place St. Louis is a game and a half ahead of Cincinnati. The Cardinals host the division-leading Pirates for three games next weekend, completing their season series. The Reds play Pittsburgh six times in their last nine games.
The trio has been in a tight pack atop the division most of the season. Currently, all three are in position to make the playoffs.
Hamilton’s steal and Frazier’s hit decided a game full of tough pitching and impressive defense.
Michael Wacha, the Cardinals’ top draft pick last year out of Texas A&M, made his fifth career start and blanked the Reds on three hits through six innings.
“He was very impressive,” Matheny said. “When you put guys in that kind of situation, you never know how they’re going to react. He stepped up.”
The Cardinals’ lineup was back to full strength. Carlos Beltran was back in right field after missing two games with a sore back. Molina was back in the lineup after leaving Monday’s game with a sore left wrist.
Bailey is in a good stretch, winning his last five decisions. He held the Cardinals to five hits over 7 1/3 innings during a 10-0 win in St. Louis last Wednesday.
Bailey escaped an early threat. Matt Carpenter opened the game with a single, and Bailey walked Beltran on four pitches, bringing up Matt Holliday. The left fielder has a .375 career average against Bailey, but struck out swinging. Allen Craig grounded into a double play.
Defense had a lot to do with keeping this one close. No surprise there — St. Louis has the fewest errors in the NL, Cincinnati the third-fewest.
NOTES: The Cardinals called up RHP Carlos Martinez, LHP Tyler Lyons, INF Ryan Jackson, INF Brock Peterson and C Audry Perez. … Reds manager Dusty Baker said LHP Tony Cingrani will start the final game of the series on Thursday. RHP Greg Reynolds replaced Cingrani when he went on the DL with a sore back and was on turn to start. Baker said Reynolds will be ready if Cingrani has problems. … Reds RHP Bronson Arroyo (13-10) starts Wednesday’s game against RHP Shelby Miller (12-9). Arroyo is 0-3 in four starts against the Cardinals this season and 8-16 for his career.