By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds wobbled into Thursday night’s game on crutches and wrapped in gauze.
They were missing three catchers, outfielder Nick Senzel and infielder/outfielder Derek Dietrich. And closer Raisel Iglesias is on paternity leave.
The St. Louis Cardinals, though, shed no tears for the Reds because the Cardinals were in even worse shape and should have marched onto the field behind a fyffe & drum corps.
The Cardinals were missing four regulars — catcher Yadier Molina, third baseman Matt Carpenter, outfielder Marcell Ozuna and infielder Jedd Gyorko. In addition, the Cardinals were operating without flame-scorching closer Jordan Hicks.
So, who took the biggest advantage of these two limping franchises?
On this night it was the Cardinals, a 7-4 come-from-behind victory in Great American Ball Park. After spotting the Reds a 3-0 lead through three innings, as so often happens with the Reds, the other team came stomping back.
First, it was a two-run home run given up by Reds starter Tanner Roark to number eight hitter Paul DeJong in the fifth inning, a ball that clanked off the left field foul pole.
“It was hot out there and I was running on fumes in the fifth inning,” said Roark. “I thought I threw the ball pretty well tonight. There wasn’t much hard contact other than the home run.
“They had a lot of fouls balls and took me deep into counts,” he added. “The home run was a change-up. It could have been lower. It was at the bottom of the strike zone, maybe three-fourths of the way into the strike zone. He just got the barrel to it. It could have gone a little more left (and missed the foul pole).”
The Reds still led, 3-2. Roark, though, had thrown 102 pitches after five innings and he was replaced in the sixth by Robert Stephenson.
He recorded only two outs and gave up five runs, including a grand slam home run by leadoff hitter Tommy Edman, his first career bases-loaded home run.
Stephenson is used more and more in high leverage situations and has performed well. He insisted his pitches were good and the home run pitch was a good one.
“Honestly, I thought I made a lot of good pitches and was close to being out of it (before the grand slam),” he said. “There were a couple of well-placed ground balls and we just missed getting a guy out at first.”
That was pre-grand slam and Stephenson said, “It came back to get me. I thought I had a good pitch on the home run probably just one too many sliders. It was down-and-in on the corner. . .but just one too many sliders.”
The Reds struck first, as they always seem to do, and it came from a familiar event. With two outs in the first inning Eugenio Suarez launched his 24th home run, his league-leading ninth first-inning home run.
And the Reds made it 3-0 in the third against St. Louis starter and eight-game winner Dakota Hudson. Roark started it with a double and scored on Jesse Winker’s single. Winker scored on Suarez’s sacrifice fly.
John Gant replaced St. Louis starter Hudson for the sixth and he didn’t last long — four hitters and three reached base.
With one out Jose Iglesias doubled and scored on a single by Juan Graterol. When Gant walked Josh VanMeter, his night was finished as quickly as it started.
Giovanny Gallegos claimed the mound. On his second pitch, Jesse Winker hit into his ninth double play this season and that was that for the Reds in the sixth.
A walk to Joey Votto and Yasiel Puig’s second hit on Yasiel Puig Bobblehead Night put runners on second and first with one out in the seventh.
Pinch-hitter Derek Dietrich struck out and Phillip Ervin lined out to center field and that was that for the Reds in the seventh.
John Brebbia pitched the eighth and quickly went 1-2-3, striking out the first two, and that was that for the Reds in the eighth.
With closer Jordan Hicks on the injured list with a sore elbow, left hander Andrew Miller was assigned the ninth inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Jesse Winker. He struck out Joey Votto on a 0-and-2 pitch. He retired Eugenio Suarez on a first-pitch line drive to third base. He retired Yasiel Puig on a weak ground ball to the mound and that was that for the Reds.
The bottom of the St. Louis order did a lot of damage. Five through eight had six of the team’s’s seven hits. The only hit from the top four was Edman’s grand slam off Stephenson.
“That was the difference,” said manager David Bell. “They got some big hits off Robert. He has been pitching well and it wasn’t his night tonight.
“Robert is starting to pitch more in high-leverage situations,” said Bell. “I’d pitch him in there in that spot again. He has been pitching really, really well. We liked him there. And we can’t rely on the same guys, don’t want to do that.
“Early in the year he was pitching good and went through a little bit of a time when he struggled. But when he came back off the disabled list he has pitched as well as anyone. We like him, like his stuff against the best hitters in the league. He has an elite slider.”
Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals’ $130 million man ($30 million a year), struck out four straight times.
In the St. Louis ninth, rookie Edmundo Sosa pinch-hit with a runner on first. He dropped a single into right field and hit into a double play. How’s that? The runner on first tried to take third and right field Yasiel Puig threw him on. Sosa tried to take second on Puig’s throw to third and Eugenio Suarez threw him out second.
With the Chicago Cubs taking Thursday off, the Reds only lost a half-game to the division leaders, but it is a fast-rising eight games behind.