CINCINNATI • The Cardinals did what they had to do for the standings and most of all for this ballpark.
With runs in two of the three final innings of the game, the Cardinals completed a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds with an 8-5 victory Thursday night at Great American Ball Park. A day after they had one of their sharpest games of the season, the Cardinals just got by with persistence.
Two home runs by Scott Schebler reminded them that the score was really never safe at GABP, so the more runs the better.
The Cardinals got an RBI single by Alex Mejia and a pull-away double by Greg Garcia to produce two runs in the top of the ninth inning. That buttressed them against Schebler’s homer off Zach Duke to lead off the ninth.
Four of the Cardinals eight runs came from the top three spots in the order. In the seventh, the middle of the order provided two runs that kept extending and extending the lead.
The Cardinals had five doubles in the game — a season-high. Tommy Pham did not have one of them but he reached base four times, twice via walks. And he scored one of the Cardinals’ runs.
The Cardinals will gain a game on either the Brewers or the Cubs. The two rivals are playing each other at Miller Park. The Colorado Rockies, who lead the race right now for the second NL Wild Card, play late Thursday night in San Diego. The Cardinals can close the gap to 1 1/2 games if the Rockies lose, and their deficit will drop to four games if the Cubs lose to Milwaukee.
• BOX SCORE: Cardinals 8, Reds 5
As Martinez bows out of game, Molina sets new career-best for RBIs
The Cardinals have widened their lead but not enough that Carlos Martinez, before calling it a night, could allow the game to be tightened once again.
Scott Schebler clubbed a 430-foot home run deep into the right-field bleachers to give the Reds a run in the seventh inning and knock back the Cardinals’ lead to 6-4. That hit, followed by a single, chased Martinez from the game after allowing four runs (all earned) on nine hits and an intentional walk. The righthander wasn’t all that efficient, didn’t have his best stuff, and just had to find a way through 6 1/3 innings.
He has one quality start since Aug. 24.
The Cardinals added two runs to the score in the seventh inning, starting with a milestone for Molina. The Cardinals’ catcher drove home Jose Martinez with a double to dead center. Martinez scored for Molina’s 81st RBI of the season, besting the career-best 80 he had in 2013. Molina leads the team with 81 RBIs and he’s had 22 this month. It’s the most RBIs of any month of his career.
Cardinals hold ever-precarious 4-3 lead against Cincinnati
If there is anything that the locals know about Great American Ball Park it that no lead is ever safe, not with the pinched-in walls, favorable hitting conditions, and the contrast between the Reds’ pitching staff and the Reds’ lineup.
A one-run lead is nothing to try and protect.
Play for the runs.
The Cardinals are holding onto a 4-3 lead going into the bottom of the fifth inning. A two-run homer by center fielder Phillip Ervin brought the Reds within a run of the Cardinals who had opened up a 4-1 lead in the third inning. Carlos Martinez fed Ervin a 93-mph flat spinning fastball that the outfielder put in the nearby left-field seats. That meant that the Reds are one swing from tying, and they’ve got a list of bats with the kind of swings to do it.
The Cardinals have had their chances to add on, but have failed in recent innings.
Dexter Fowler, who has two doubles and two RBIs, stung a ball to center field to leave the bases loaded in the fourth inning. That was still enough to bounce starter Homer Bailey from the game. In the fifth inning, two walks from reliever Kevin Shackelford was not enough to do anything more than prime a rally that never happened.
Randal Grichuk, batting eighth, is zero-for-two with runners in scoring position, and he’s left three runners on base in three at-bats.
Fowler doubled and scored in the first inning for a 1-0 lead. He doubled home two runs in the third inning, too third on a popup, and then scored on a sacrifice fly that Yadier Molina hit. The opportunism of taking third base on a ball that the catcher slid to catch near the dugout produced a run that is now the difference in the game.
Birthday boy Carlos Martinez looks to set wild-card pace for Cardinals
With every neighborhood team in the standings taking a step back Wednesday before the Cardinals’ game was complete, that sets the stage for Thursday where it’s the Cardinals who will be playing first and trying to keep up with the Joneses.
There is one problem.
The two teams ahead of them in the division play each other for the next four days, and that assures that the Cardinals must win to keep pace with one of them. The Cardinals know that a loss and they will lose ground to one of them. They are closer in the wild-card race to Milwaukee. The Brewers start the game a 1/2-game back and the Cardinals are 2 1/2-games back of the Colorado Rockies.
The Cardinals are five games behind the Chicago Cubs in the division. If the Brewers win all four games, sure that gives the Cardinals a chance to shave that lead down to one game — as unlikely as that is — but it also means that the Brewers will just move ahead and maintain their two-game edge.
That’s the bind the Cardinals find themselves in as Carlos Martinez starts against the Cincinnati Reds on his 26th birthday.
As they’ve said their only approach is simple: win.
The Brewers and Cubs play later this evening in Milwaukee, and the Rockies follow much later with a game in San Diego.
Jose Martinez is back in the Cardinals lineup after needing a day to rest a thumb tenderized by Ben Zobrist. Martinez jarred the thumb when making a tag at Wrigley Field this past weekend, and he was given time to rest the digit when it started to swell with soreness. He’s batting cleanup Thursday against Homer Bailey — and that means rookie Paul Dejong is back to No. 6 with Dexter Fowler holding down No. 3.
Fowler has hit a homer in three consecutive games.
This is the lineup that will face Bailey, the Reds’ $100-million man:
1. Matt Carpenter, 3B
2. Tommy Pham, LF
3. Dexter Fowler, CF
4. Jose Martinez, 1B
5. Yadier Molina, C
6. Paul DeJong, SS
7. Kolten Wong, 2B
8. Randal Grichuk, RF
9. Carlos Martinez, P
Check back throughout the evening here at C-Beat and StlToday.com for more from the Cardinals-Reds game at Great American Ball Park. There will be updates throughout the day. My apologies for the late start to the blog, but I had a chance to get an interview for an upcoming story and didn’t want to miss it.
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