CINCINNATI (AP) — Jonny Gomes saw both of them coming – the pitch and the pummeling.
Gomes expected a fastball and got one, connecting for a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth Thursday that sent the Cincinnati Reds to their first victory of the season, 2-1 over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Then, he threw himself into the celebratory scrum at home, flinging away his batting helmet before hopping on the plate with both feet. Teammates mobbed him after the second game-ending homer of his career.
“It’s always good getting that zero off the board, no matter what the category is – wins, hits, whatever,” Gomes said.
He came up with one out in the ninth to face Jason Motte (0-1), brought in to face him. Motte ran the count to 2-2, throwing all fastballs. The homer came on yet another one, this one well above the belt.
“You’re going to see that late in the game with a guy who throws hard,” Gomes said. “That’s power on power right there.”
Despite the loss, the defending NL Central champions came away happy with how the first road series went overall. The Cardinals got solid starts in all three games.
“We won the series,” manager Tony La Russa said. “We had a shot at the end. It’s disappointing when you don’t win the third one, but we did all right here.”
Bronson Arroyo came between the Cardinals and the sweep. Arroyo went the first eight innings, holding down a lineup that scored 17 runs in the first two games. Matt Holliday hit his first homer for the Cardinals, who finished with only four hits. Francisco Cordero (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth.
Gomes’ first homer of the season decided a matchup between Arroyo and Brad Penny, who allowed one run apiece before leaving it in the hands of the bullpens. Motte ended it with a big mistake.
“Not where I wanted to throw it – up and out over the plate,” Motte said. “It’s not the pitch, but where I threw it.”
After two games in unseasonably warm weather, the teams finished on a more typical April afternoon – 54 degrees and breezy. Both starters wore short sleeves and had their way with bundled-up hitters.
Arroyo even got in a little offense, too.
Ryan Hanigan doubled just inside third base with two outs in the fifth inning. Up came Arroyo, who fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches from Penny before lining a single to center for Cincinnati’s first lead of the season.
Holliday tied it in the seventh with a drive into the left field seats. Arroyo gave up four hits in eight innings, striking out six.
Penny signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal last December with the Cardinals, who lost the back end of their rotation to free agency. He looked good during his first appearance in the Cardinals’ traditional red stirrups, giving up six hits and one run in seven innings.
No surprise that he plowed through the Reds’ order. Penny has won his last seven decisions against Cincinnati, not losing to the Reds since 2001 with Florida. He’s 7-2 career against them.
This time, he met his match in Arroyo.
“We do our job and keep the team close, usually this team is going to come through and score a few runs,” Penny said. “We’ve got a great lineup. You’ve just got to tip you hat to him today.”
Arroyo was one of the NL’s best pitchers in the second half of last season. The right-hander was bothered by a flare-up of carpal tunnel syndrome early in the season. From July 10 on, he had a 2.07 ERA that was the best in the majors.
The wrist hasn’t been a problem this year – he gave up playing guitar and writing with his right hand to ease the strain.
The lanky right-hander took Colby Rasmus’ comeback grounder off the side of his left shin in the second inning and limped around the infield for a couple of minutes. He threw a few practice pitches and continued even though his calf hurt the rest of the game.
“I’ve been hit a lot harder in other places, but this one is killing me,” Arroyo said. “As the game went on, it got tighter and tighter. It actually might have helped my changeup because I had to keep a shorter stride.”
NOTES: The Cardinals were trying for their first three-game series sweep in Cincinnati since 2005. … Arroyo didn’t drive in a run last season, going 7 for 62 (.113). His best season at the plate was 2008, when he batted .197 and drove in six runs. … Arroyo fanned Albert Pujols in the fourth for his 1,000th career strikeout. … Gomes’ other game-ending homer came with Tampa Bay off Detroit’s Troy Percival on July 9, 2005.