By Hal McCoy
When a team holds the top four hitters in the ultra-potent St. Louis Cardinals batting order to 0 for 17, that team should win easily, right?
Cincinnati Reds pitchers did just that Monday night in Great American Ball Park and, yes, they won.
But it wasn’t easy, by any stretch. It took an excuse-me checked swing sacrifice fly in the 10th inning by Nick Senzel to give the Reds a hard-earned 6-5 walk-off victory.
And it took the escape artistry of Reds closer Alexis Diaz to keep the Cardinals off the scoreboard in the eighth and ninth innings.
Spencer Steer was the Reds ghost runner to start the 10th against ‘Mr. 100 Mile Per Hour’ Ryan Helsley. He struck out the side in the ninth with 101 and 102 miles per hour four-seam fastballs.
But he walked Tyler Stephenson on four pitches and the fourth pitch was wild, enabling Steer to take third. Senzel, who had two hits, lobbed one to right field and Steer raced home with the game-winner after the catch
Senzel and Helsley are close friends. . .at least they were before Senzel’s at bat.
“That was a checked swing walk-off,” said Senzel during a post-game interview with Bally Sports. “We needed that win.”
Senzel said the team had a pre-game meeting, trying to shed the spectre of it’s three straight losses to the New York Yankees.
“It was emphasized that we have to stay aggressive and keep fighting and that’s our DNA,” he said. “Helsley, that’s my boy. Damn he’s good.”
The Cardinals probably are saying the same thing about ?Diaz. The Cardinals tied the score, 5-5, in the eighth with back-to-back doubles by Nolan Gorman and Paul DeJong against Alex Young.
Manager David Bell decided to bring in closer Diaz with one out and the go-ahead run on second base. He struck out pinch-hitter Alex Burleson and retired pinch-hitter Brendan Donovan on a fly ball.
Then came Diaz’s eventful ninth.
He walked Tommy Edman and he stole second. He struck out Paul Goldschmidt. He walked Willson Contreras on a full count. He struck out Nolan Arenado, ending his 12-game hitting streak. He walked Lars Nootbar, filling the bases. And he struck out Nolan Gorman to end the uprising.
The Cardinals, who started the season 10-24, came to Cincinnati with 11 wins in their last 14 games, including three of four from the Los Angeles Dodgers before they came to town. And the Reds had lost six of seven.
The Reds did most of their damage early against St. Louis starter Jordan Montgomery, four runs and seven hits in four innings. And the Cardinals did most of their damage against Reds starter Brandon Williamson, four runs, four hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings.
Cincinnati jumped on Montgomery for two runs in the first on back-to-back doubles by Jonathan India and Matt McLain and a single by Tyler Stephenson.
Williamson issued a one-out walk to Juan Yepas in the second, walked Gorman on a full count and DeJong jolted a 410-foot three-run homer to left, pushing the Cardinals in front, 3-2.
The Reds grabbed a 4-3 lead in the third on McLain’s single and Steer’s two-run home run.
St. Louis tied it in the fifth, an inning started when Williamson walkeds Goldschmidt and threw wildly on a pickoff attempt, moving Goldschmidt to second. He scored on pinch-hitter Nootbar’s double to right and it wasw 4-4.
Cincinnati regained the lead in he fifth on Stephenson full-count walk, Senzel’s single and Will Myer’s run-scoring ground out.
St. Louis pulled even again in the on the back-to-back doubles off Young, leaving it up to Diaz and Senzel to do their things at the end of the game.
Ian Gibaut, who had given up two-run home runs to New York’s Anthony Rizzo Friday and Saturday, followed Diaz in the top of the 10th.
With a ghost runner on second, Gibaut struck out DeJong, induced a fly ball from Burleson and after walking Donovan he struck out DeJong, stranding both runners.
Mostly it was a strikeout extravaganza on both sides. The Cardinals struck out 14 times and the Reds stuck out 13 times.
As for the top four batters in the Cardinals batting order going 0 for 17, Edman was 0 for 5 with a walk, Goldschmidt was 0 for 3 with two walks (and is 1 for his last 21), Contreras was 0 for 4 with a walk and Arenado was 0 for 5.