By HAL McCOY
Even Mother Nature is smiling approvingly at the Cincinnati Reds these days. A well-placed thunderstorm Saturday afternoon contributed to the Reds applying another crusher on the St. Louis Cardinals, 8-2.
For five innings St. Louis starter Jack Flaherty held the Reds to no runs and two hits. Then came a two-hour downpour over Busch Stadium III.
When the rain subsided, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny had to replace Flaherty and when he has to go to his bullpen the stadium quickly becomes a disaster area.
Matheny put Mike Mayers into the game for the sixth and the Reds scored a run on back-to-back doubles by Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett.
The Cardinals still led, 2-1, when the seventh began Matheny put in his flame-thrower, Jordan Hicks. His fastball averages 101 miles an hour and he has thrown more than 300 pitches above 100 miles an hour.
The Reds treated him like a slow-pitch softball pitchers. He retired exactly one batter and gave up four runs, four hits, a walk and a hit batsman.
If all began when his first pitch, a 101 miles an hour fastball crashed into the rib cage of pinch-hitter Dilson Herrera, who didn’t even rub it as he trotted to first base. Then he walked Billy Hamilton on four pitches.
Adam Duvall blooped a single to shallow right field to load the bases with no outs. Jose Peraza smashed back to the mound off Hicks’ hand and it rolled away from him for a run-scoring infield single and it was tied, 2-2.
With the bases still loaded, Hicks caught Joey Votto looking at strike three on a full count.
Scooter Gennett wasn’t about to let that happen. On a 0-and-2 pitch, a 100 miles an hour fastball on the inside corner, Gennett yanked it into right field for the go-ahead run, a 3-2 lead. Gennett continues to lead the National League with a .328 batting average.
Eugenio Suarez ended Hicks’ nightmarish afternoon with a two-run single to left field Suarez’s 71st RBIs of the season and a 5-2 Reds advantage. Suarez, who missed three weeks with an injury, leads the National League in RBI.
The Reds continued to add on with two runs in the eighth on Joey Votto’s two-run bases loaded single and one in the ninth on Jose Peraza’s base loaded infield hit. Amazingly, Peraza had five hits, two of them infield hits and two of them bloopers as he raised his batting average to .288.
The Reds batted nine times with the bases loaded and had six hits and seven RBI. When Joey Votto batted with the base loaded in the ninth, it was his third straight at bat with runners on every base.
After getting no runs and two hits off starter Flaherty in the first five innings, the Reds ravaged the St. Louis bullpen for eight runs and 12 hits over the last four innings. They were 8 for 20 with runners in scoring position.
On the other side, Reds starter Luis Castillo gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Matt Carpenter, and the Cardinal had two runs and five hits off him in his five innings.
Unlike the Cardinals bullpen, the Reds bullpen was untouchable after the two-hour rain delay — four innings, no runs, five hits.
On the down side, right fielder Scott Schebler left the game in the sixth inning with a shoulder injury after making a superb play.
The Reds trailed, 2-1, and the Cardinals had a runner on second with one out. Yadier Molina drilled one to deep right and Schebler snagged it on the run. But he smashed into the wall after the catch and collapsed to the ground. But he had the wherewithal to flip the baseball to center fielder Billy Hamilton, standing close by. The runner took third but would have scored from second if Schebler had not relayed the ball to Hamilton.
In addition to Peraza’s five hits and two RBI, Gennett had two hits and two RBI and Votto had two hits and two RBI.
So after losing their first nine of the season to the Cardinals, the Reds have won three straight, including the first two of this three-game season. And they are 21-9 in their last 30 games, best record in the National League in that span. After falling 17 games under .500 on May 4, the Reds are now only nine games under .500 at 43-52.