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.
He’d won only two starts since April 7 before entering the game Saturday.
And he led the league with 10 losses.
Those hid how much he had improved since those April looks the Cardinals had. Castillo had not allowed more than three runs in his previous nine starts. The Cardinals dinged his line for one unearned run in the second inning. An infield error put a runner on to lead off the inning, and Harrison Bader brought the run home with an RBI single, his third hit of the series. Otherwise, the Cardinals didn’t do much against Castillo. Two baserunners were erased when Arenado drove Castillo’s sinker into the ground and it popped up into two double plays that ended the first and third innings.
Castillo overpowered the Cardinals at times with his mix of fastballs, revving it up to 98 mph. He got 20 swings at the fastball and, according to Baseball Savant, 10 were misses.
Castillo left the game after seven innings the beneficiary of a tremendous catch at the wall in center field and a lead that was threatened if not overcome.
The Cardinals’ outfielders have put on a clinic throughout the week, and they took it on the road to Cincinnati. O’Neill scaled the left-field wall to make a catch Friday that robbed extra bases. In right field, Dylan Carlson had sliding catches both Friday and Saturday to take away base hits, and he threw a runner out at the plate for a double play that momentarily kept Friday’s game tied. Carlson especially had confounded the Reds, and the scales shifted on the rookie in the top of the seventh.
With a runner on and a two-run deficit, Carlson lifted a pitch from Castillo toward right-center. Before it could carom off the wall for a likely RBI double, center fielder Shogo Akiyama jumped and plucked the ball from near the top of the wall for the inning’s final out.
Carlson dropped into a squat between first and second.
Akimaya got up from a seated position on the warning track to show the ball.
The whiplash was quick. In the bottom of the inning, Winker drilled a two-run shot to turn what could have been a one-run game without Akimaya’s catch into a four-run lead.
The Cardinals burst against reliever Brad Brach made that lead essential.
The early innings took some of the trappings of Friday night’s game and the missed opportunity for rambunctious innings and wedged them all onto the Reds’ side.
Cincinnati stranded the bases loaded in the first inning, and by the end of the third inning against Woodford had left six runners on base, four of them in scoring position. The rookie right-hander walked leadoff batter Jonathan India to give the rookie six consecutive games of reaching base in the first inning. India got to third after singles from Winker and Tyler Naquin, but the liner from Naquin was sharp enough and fielded swiftly enough by Carlson that India didn’t challenge the fellow rookie’s arm. That left India watching as two teammates popped up to end the inning without a run.
In the second, the Reds overtook the Cardinals’ 1-0 lead on Winker’s two-run double. Woodford held the inning there by getting former MVP Joey Votto to roll into a groundout.
In the third, Woodford danced back into oncoming traffic but avoided bruising.
With two on and one out, Woodford sidestepped another rally with a fly ball and a grounder. He had his first and only perfect inning in the fourth before Votto lofted a fly ball that tucked over the left-field wall for a solo homer to lead off the fifth. Woodford allowed seven hits. Five came from left-handed batters, three from the top two hitters in Reds’ lineup.©2021 STLtoday.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.