CINCINNATI — The steady drumbeat of offense at a ballpark prone to a little percussion proved enough for the Cincinnati Reds to stay ahead of the Cardinals even when they had that one, seemingly inevitable swing at changing the tune.
The Reds piled up the chances early against rookie starter Jake Woodford and the runs later as Jesse Winker capped his three-hit game with a two-run homer in seventh. That proved pivotal as the Reds, who had runners on in seven innings and scored in three of them, outpaced the Cardinals for a 5-3 victory Saturday night at Great American Ball Park. The loss assured the Cardinals they’ll leave the Queen City this weekend in, at best, the same spot they arrived — third place in the National League Central.
Reds opening-day starter Luis Castillo was superb through seven innings and closer Heath Hembree had his second consecutive perfect ninth in as many games against the top of the Cardinals’ order. In between was the glitch.
The Cardinals got the tying run into scoring position.
But no farther.
The Cardinals’ offense kept bottled-up by Castillo but shaken just enough to eventually fizz in the eighth.
Back-to-back doubles from Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado started the inning. Arenado took third on Tyler O’Neill's high soaring but ultimately caught fly ball to deep center, and Arenado trotted home on a single by Paul DeJong. Two more Cardinals would reach base, including a two-out walk from backup catcher Andrew Knizner, and load them up for the No. 9 spot in the order. The new resident at that address happened to be one of the best hitters all time with the bases loaded. At one point recently in his career, Matt Carpenter flirted with batting .500 with the bases loaded, and in that spot he brought a .746 slugging percentage and 91 RBIs in 90 plate appearances to the on-deck circle.
That’s as far as he got.
When the Reds brought in lefty reliever Sean Doolittle, manager Mike Shildt beckoned Carpenter back and replaced him with Jose Rondon, choosing handedness over history. Right-handed batters have hit better than .300 and slugged greater than .500 while posting a .965 OPS vs. Doolittle this season compared to the .710 OPS left-handed batters have. The right-handed-batting Rondon got the count full before flying out to shallow left field.
An All-Star in 2019 and one of the finer pitchers in the division in 2020, Castillo has been adrift at times in 2021. That started on opening day as the Cardinals tagged the right-hander for 10 runs on eight pitches before Castillo could finish the fourth inning. In his first two starts against the Cardinals this season, Castillo allowed 14 runs and 14 hits in 8 1/3 innings. The second start was the first of seven consecutive losses for Castillo, including losing all six of his starts in May.