By Hal McCoy
The St. Louis Cardinals made a major, major mistake Sunday afternoon in Busch Stadium III and it led to a 4-3 Cincinnati Reds victory.
Cardinals relief pitcher Jordan Hicks walked Elly De La Cruz with the score tied, 3-3, in the eighth inning.
That is like giving De La Cruz a license to steal, which he did, although he wasn’t credited with a steal.
With no outs and a 3-and-2 count on Spencer Steer, De La Cruz broke for second on the pitch, making it impossible for the Cardinals to turn a double play on Steer’s ground ball to third.
De La Cruz took third on a passed ball charged to St. Louis catcher Willson Contreras. The Cardinals played the infield in to cut off the run with one out.
Tyler Stephenson hit one sharply to shortstop Paul DeJong and he whipped a throw home. Didn’t matter. De La Cruz slid head first and tagged the plate for what was the winning run, enabling the Reds to take two of three from the last-place Cardinals.
It was a De La Cruz kind of day. He reached base his first four times. He had two hits. He drove in a run. He scored two runs, both times after a walk.
It was 3-2 Cardinals in the sixth when St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright walked De la Cruz on a full count. This time it really was a license to steal and he did it. Then he moved to third base on a fly ball and scored on Stephenson’s single to right field, tying it, 3-3.
After Saturday’s 8-4 Reds win over the Cardinals, Cruz told the media with a broad smile, “I’m the fastest man on the planet.”
And he also showed it in the first inning when he hit a routine grounder to first base and beat pitcher Adam Wainwright to the bag for an infield hit.
During Sunday’s game, the Bally Sports Ohio broadcasters wondered how De La Cruz would do in a sprint race against a horse and Chris Welsh said, “They better find a fast horse.”
After a 10-day hiatus due to stiffness in his hip, Hunter Greene started for the Reds.
The good news: He struck out nine in his 5 1/3 innings, the first Reds pitcher since Jim Maloney in 1965 to strike out eight or more batters in five straight starts.
The bad news: He gave up three runs, six hits and two walks and still has only one win this season.
The Reds, though, kept pace with Wainwright. Their first three runs came with two outs.
Jonathan India homered with two outs in the first. De La Cruz singled home Curt Casali with two outs in the third and De La Cruz scored with two outs in the fifth on Stephenson’s single.
The Cardinals took a 2-1 lead in the second on rookie Jordan Walker’s run-scoring single and a run-producing ground ball by Tommy Edman.
After the Reds tied it, 2-2, the Cardinals again grabbed the lead, 3-2, on Nolan Arrenado’s RBI triple in the third.
Then De La Cruz and his rapid legs took over.
Wainwright, 41, gave up three runs and eight hits during his 5 2/3 innings and has not produced a quality start in any of his six starts this season.
After Greene left, Ian Gibaut, Lucas Sims and Alexis Diaz put the lid on it with 3 2/3s inning of no runs and one hit pitching, making certain the underachieving Cardinal lost for the ninth time in 12 games.
Diaz, as automatic as the sun rising in the east, recorded his 15th save in 15 opportunities with a 1-2-3 ninth. He has completed 21 straight saves, one shy of the best current streak. His brother, Edwin, has 22 straight for the New York Mets, but he is out for the season with an injury.
While Greene was on the mound, the Cardinals were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and finished 1 for 11. In their last 12 games, the Cardinals are 9 for 71 (.127) with runners in scoring position.
Will Benson contributed three hits to Cincinnati’s 10-hit attack and De La Cruz had two.
The Reds make the second stop on their three-city trip in Kansas City, opening a three-game series Monday night against the 18-47 Royals, last in the American League Central.