Gray & Bullpen Company shut down Cardinals, 2-1


CINCINNATI — It took a lot of scribbling on his lineup card by Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell and several batting order explanations to home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz.

All the manipulations, though, resulted in a two-hit 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, a two-hitter painted by four Reds pitchers Thursday night in Great American Ball Park.

The deed was done by starter Sonny Gray and relief pitchers Robert Stephenson, Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias against the Cardinals, perched atop the National League Central standings. And it enabled the Reds to draw within 6 1/2 games of first place.

Gray was magical during five shutout innings, giving up one hit. But his three walks and career-best 10 strikeouts took a 97-pitch toll.

The only hit off Gray was a two-out single in the fifth by Dexter Fowler. The score was 0-0 at the time and Fowler stole second.

Gray, though, finished his night by striking out Matt Carpenter, Gray’s 10th whiff — five swinging and five caught gaping.

“He great. . .and he left it all out there,” said Bell of Gray’s performance, his sixth straight win at GABP. “He worked hard, against good hitters, shut ‘em down. It took everything he had. He did his part.”

But Bell believed enough was enough, pitching in a high-leverage, low-scoring game on a hot, humid night.

“He was gassed,” said Bell. “Sonny has good self-awareness and that’s saying a lot because of how much he wants to be out there. He loves to compete. He absolutely left it all out there, worked hard, and he earned it.”

For his part, Gray thought that after five innings, “I was OK. It was time to turn it over to the bullpen and they came in and did an amazing job.”

Stephenson pitched a 1-2-3 sixth with two strikeouts. Lorenzen pitched a 1 2/3 innings and struck out two. He issued a leadoff walk in the eight and retired the next two.

Bell brought in closer Iglesias with two outs and one on and he retired power-packed Paul Goldschmidt on a fly ball on the first pitch.

Iglesias, though, walked the first batter in faced in the ninth, then retired the next two. Needing one out to complete a 2-0 shutout, Iglesias saw Kolten Wong reached out a poke a broken-bat double just inside the third base line, scoring a run.

With the tying run on second, pinch-hitter Matt Wieters swung at the first pitch and flied to center to end it.

Gray retired the first six Cardinals, but filled the bases in the third without giving up a hit. Two walks and a hit batsman loaded the bases and brought up Paul Goldschmidt.

Gray caught him looking at a 95-miles an hour fastball to end the uprising.

“Big spot there,” said Gray. “I predominately fed him a lot of breaking stuff there. Then I just took a chance with a good heater and thankfully it came back over the plate just enough to keep him off of it.”

The Reds broke through for their two runs off Michael Wacha in the fifth inning, an inning that began with a single by Jose Iglesias and a hit by pitch absorbed by Tucker Barnhart.

Gray, a suberb practictioner of the bunt, laid down his 11th successful sacrifice bunt this season, moving the runners to third and second. That was almost as important as his pitching performance.

Iglesias scored on Nick Senzel’s ground ball to second and the second run crossed on Eugenio Suarez’s two-out full-count single.

“Bunting isn’t easy,” said Gray. “Nobody taught me. It is just a matter of placing them where nobody is. It was a big part of the game. I just got it off the end and deadened it.”

Even though he was not going back out to pitch, Bell permitted Gray to bat for two reasons — the Reds were short on the bench because Joey Votto was not available due to a bad back and Gray is an adept bunter.

“Sonny is a good bunter, we’ve seem him handle the bat all year,” said Bell. “He is a good athlete.”

He is good on the mound, too. He is 8-and-6 on the season and his last few outings have been as solid as a block of ice.

“Just conviction, that’s it,” he said of his solid performances of late. “I have been using breaking balls early and fastballs late.

“They Cardinals had a good approach tonight,” he added. “I threw a lot of pitches, but I was able to execute with two strikes (that led to the 10 strikeouts. I was able to execute when it got to 2-and-2 and 3-and-2.”

With Gray’s skillful approach, the Cardinals found him unapproachable with their game plan at the plate.

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