CINCINNATI – The lead Tony Cingrani took off of first base had purpose, not that anyone in the ballpark noticed. At least no one on the St. Louis Cardinals noticed. Pitcher Lance Lynn didn’t notice. Why would he? Cingrani shuffled out a little further to his left, a little further, bent his knees, let his arms dangle and wiggled his fingers.
Good gawd, the pitcher is thinking of running.
Off Cingrani went, straight to second base. His slide easily beating the throw of Cardinals backup catcher Tony Cruz and putting him into scoring position. A wild pitch moved Cingrani to third and he would score the first run of the Reds’ 6-2 win on an infield hit deep into the hole at shortstop by Brandon Phillips.
Cingrani also pitched a pretty good game for his first time back on the mound since leaving Aug. 20 game against Arizona with a lower back strain, going 5 1/3 innings and allowing two runs on two hits as the Reds did what they needed to do by taking three out of four from St. Louis and pull to within 1½ games of the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central and for the first wild card spot.
First place Pittsburgh was idle, so the Reds are now three games behind the Pirates. The series win was the first for the Reds against St. Louis since sweeping the Cardinals last year in July. St. Louis won 11 of the 19 games the teams played this season but the Reds took four of the last five.
Cingrani’s legs sparked them Thursday night.
Reds manager Dusty Baker told the rookie left-hander not to swing the bat under any circumstances when he went to the plate in the second inning with two outs. Cingrani listened to Baker. He instead reached base on a drag bunt, beating Lynn covering to the bag.
“I’ve had a few bunt base hits before and they don’t really pay too much attention to you over there, so I figured I’d try to swipe a bag 0-2 on Choo,” said Cingrani. “Once they got two strikes I’m just going to go to second. If I get thrown out, then Choo leads off the (third) inning. If I’m safe, well, I guess I scored a run so that’s pretty good.
“I’m ready to go every time but they generally don’t want you to steal too often.”
It was the first steal by a Reds’ pitcher since Bronson Arroyo stole a base against San Francisco on Aug. 31, 2008.
After leaving nine runners on base and going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in Wednesday night’s 5-4 loss in 16 innings, the Reds left the bases loaded in the first inning. Todd Frazier struck out swinging on a high fastball after Lynn had walked Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick consecutively with two outs.
Cingrani responded by retiring nine of the first 10 St. Louis batters he faced, striking out five in the process. He walked a pair in the fourth inning but he caught Shane Robinson flat-footed leading off of first base to erase one of those walks, and then got Carlos Beltran to hit into a double play to take care of the walk he gave to Matt Holliday.
David Freese led off the fifth inning with a solo home run. Cingrani set down the next three batters.
“He’ll do anything to beat you. That’s the attitude you like, that’s the attitude he brings,” said Baker. “Every time he would get behind, or he would lose his control or his composure (catcher Ryan) Hanigan got him back into synch and he got himself back into synch.
“That was a big series right there. You try not to think about the past but that game last night still hurts. But that’s okay. A good team, that’s what they do, they bounce back. You have to be a resilient team; forget about yesterday. It didn’t let any of us sleep last night.”
Cingrani’s night ended in the sixth inning after he had thrown 79 pitches. He struck out pinch-hitter Brock Peterson to begin the inning but Matt Carpenter tripled and scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-2. Robinson singled and Holliday walked to bring Beltran up representing the potential go-ahead run. Zach Duke relieved Cingrani, threw one pitch and got Beltran to hit into a 5-4-3 double play and end the threat.
“That was the pitch of the night,” said Baker.
The Reds hit four home runs in the game – two by Frazier, one each by Bruce and Choo – but it was Cingrani who set the tone of the game for them on the mound and on the base paths.
“I felt good. I was a little tentative with my back but everything was coming off pretty good,” said Cingrani. “It’s hard to sit here for 16 days and not do anything except for a little back work. I was overly-amped when Carpenter stepped into that box (leading off game) because he’s been swinging it pretty well. It’s definitely fun.”