By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Adam Wainwright has been more like Adam Wainwrong for most of this baseball season — a 5-and-4 record with a bloated 5.40 earned run average when he trudged to the Great American Ball Park mound Thursday night.
And when the Cincinnati Reds pushed across a couple of runs in the first inning it looked as if it would be a short night for the St. Louis Cardinals two-time 20-game winner.
But the big right hander settled in after the first inning (two runs, two hits) and gave up no runs and no hits (one hit batsman) over the next five innings and at one point struck out five straight Reds.
And his unfortunate opponent, Brandon Finnegan, was almost as good, but a phantom balk call enabled the Cardinals to tie the game and then win it against the Reds bullpen, 3-2.
FINNEGAN KEEPS PITCHING on the wrong nights. It was Finnegan who lost a 1-0 game to LA’s Clayton Kershaw earlier this season.
Finnegan had a 2-1 lead in the sixth when he walked Matt Carpenter with one out. He tried to pick off Carpenter and home plate umpire Jerry Meals called a balk — the first balk called against Finnegan, he said, in his entire baseball life back to tee-ball days. That put Carpenter on second base from where he could score on a broken bat single to right field by Aldemys Diaz, tying it 2-2..
Finnegan said it was the same pickoff move he uses every time, no variance, no subtle changes, no illegal trickery.
“A balk is something I don’t think the home plate umpire can call, but he did,” said Finnegan. “It hurt us, but we can’t do anything about it. It’s the same thing I’ve been doing the entire year and nobody has called it all year. And if anybody calls it, it should be the first base umpire.
“The thing that sucks is I’d thrown over to first three or four times, nothing different, but he called it that time without given me any explanation about what was different,” said Finnegan. “I’ve picked a lot of guys off with that move, so I’m not going to change it. It’s the first time I’ve balked in my life. I’ve worked on my move a lot and I’m not going to change it.”
UMPIRE MEALS SAID FINNEGAN made a move toward home as if to make a pitch before throwing over to first, a balk by rule.
Wainwright had nine strikeouts in six innings and only 78 pitches, but when the Cardinals had two on and two outs in the seventh of a 2-2 tie game, manager Mike Matheny took him down for pinch-hitter Jhonny Peralta, who lined sharply to deep center to end the threat and end Wainwright’s night.
Finnegan was lifted after seven innings and 111 pitches after giving up two runs, five hits, one walk and he struck out seven, although he said, “I didn’t feel good until the fourth or fifth inning. I just tried to hit my spots more than usual and stay down in the zone.”
WHENM FINNEGAN LEFT ROSS Ohlendorf arrived on the scene and Matt Carpenter led the eighth with a double. Aledmys Diaz bunted toward first and first baseman Joey Votto tried to wipe out Carpenter at third. But Carpenter was ruled safe due to a high tag (a New York review revealed). Ohlendorf walked Matt Holliday on a full count to load the bases with no outs.
Stephen Piscotty grounded to short and Zack Cozart threw home for a force out and the Reds were a double play away from escaping. But Yadier Molina’s sixth hit in two games prevented the escape, his line single to left scored the winning run.
“The leadoff hit by Carpenter came when I missed my spot and you can’t do that to a good hitter like that, especially when you have a 1-2 count on him,” said Ohlendorf. “The Molina pitch I thought I threw it where I wanted it and he did a great job of hitting it. It was frustrating to give up a run there. We had a chance to win the series and it would have been big for us.”
Instead the Cardinals left town after winning two of the three games, including the last two.
WHEN IT LOOKED as if they might commit assault and battery on Wainwright, Joey Votto walked with one out in the first inning and Brandon Phillips doubled. Jay Bruce grounded to second, scoring Votto, and Adam Duvall singled to score Phillips for the 2-0 lead.
The Cardinals pulled one run out of Finnegan in the second on a double by Yadier Molina and a single by Brandon Moss. The rhyming walk and balk cost Finnegan dearly in the sixth.
Then came the big hit by Molina, who always seems to cripple the Reds in some manner or other. And he remains an arch enemy in Cincinnati, still booed lustily when his name is announced, dating back to 2010 when he pushed Brandon Phillips, inciting an on-the-field skirmish that drew some suspensions and fines.