By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — For the first 10 St Louis Cardinals that rookie Jackson Stephens faced Tuesday night, it looked as if he was joining the densely populated Cincinnati Reds arms race.
Then his arm fell off, along with his wheels.
Stephens was painting a perfect game — 10 up and 10 down — with one out in the fourth inning and his teammates had given him a 4-0 lead.
Then came single, single, single, home run, home run. That’s five runs on five hits, the big blow a three-run home run by arch-enemy Yadier Molina.
That four-run lead turned into a one-run deficit and then the ridiculousness of September surfaced.
BOTH THE REDS AND THE Cardinals used eight pitchers. Why? Because of roster expansion in September both managers have overstuffed bullpens and both use them. The Reds bullpen contains 13 warm bodies and the Cardinals bullpen is overrun with 11 relief pitchers.
The eighth and final one for the Reds, Tim Adleman, started the 10th inning and gave up two runs.
He started the decisive inning by hitting Kolten Wong with a 0-and-2 pitch. Wong stole second and scored on Dexter Fowler’s double into the right field corner to give the Cardinals a one-run lead and an eventual 8-7 victory. It was Fowler who hit a home run in the top of the eighth off Kevin Shackelford that tied it, 6-6, forcing an extra inning.
EVEN AFTER ST. LOUIS scored two runs in the 10th it wasn’t over. Scooter Gennett led the bottom of the 10th with his 26th home run on a full count to pull the Reds within one.
But Adam Duvall flied to center, Scott Schebler flied to center and Patrick Kivlehan struck out to finally end the long, long night.
This, though, was all about the two faces of Jackson Stephens, making his second major league start.
“After retiring the first 10, I just didn’t execute pitches,” said Stephens. “I was pumping the zone all the way and then kind of got behind in some counts, some fastball counts, and they hit it.”
THE REDS SCORED A RUN in the first on Jesse Winkers double and Joey Votto’s single, a run in the second on a walk to Adam Duvall, a single by Scott Schebler and Patrick Kivlehan’s sacrifice fly.
They scored two more in the third on Winker’s single and Zack Cozart’s 23rd home run and Stephens had a 4-0 lead.
Then came the Cardinals fourth and three straight singles by Tommy Pham, Fowler and Martinez for one run. Molina homered to tie it, 4-4, and Paul DeJong homered right behind Molina, the ninth time this year Reds pitchers have given up back-to-back homers.
“I’m sure they (the Cardinals) did make some adjustments the second time through, but that’s baseball,” said Stephens. “As a starter you are supposed to be able to go through the lineup four times. I just didn’t execute. I had a 4-0 lead and got behind on hitters and didn’t want to walk guys. So I put some pitches right over the plate and they hit them.”
WHAT DID MANAGER BRYAN Price see? He agreed with Stephens. Execution.
“He got the first 10 hitters out, then he got behind Pham (2-and-0) and gave up a base hit,” said Price. “Then it’s another base hit and another base hit and a couple of home runs.
“It ended up 5-4 in a hurry,” said Price. “He did a really nice job of pitching in at the start, using his breaking balls and changeup. Later, the second time through, he wasn’t making the same quality pitches.”
Nevertheless, five days from now, when the Reds are in Milwaukee, Stephens will start again.
The Reds missed a chance to pull within game of climbing out of last place because the fourth place Pittsburgh Pirates lost to Milwaukee, 1-0. Instead the Reds remain in last place, two games behind the Pirates.
And even though the Cardinals won, their hopes of catching the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central are slipping silently into the night. The Cubs beat Tampa Bay, 2-1, to maintain their five-game lead over St. Louis.
Just for the record and giggles, the Reds used Stephens, Asher Wojciechowski, Cody Reed, Ariel Hernandez, Wandy Peralta, Kevin Shackelford (blown save), Michael Lorenzen and Tim Adleman (the loser).
The Cardinals used Jack Flaherty, John Gant, Brett Cecil, John Brebbia, Ryan Sherriff, Matt Bowman, Juan Nicasio (the winner) and Tyler Lyons (the save).