By Hal McCoy
The last place St. Louis Cardinals realize that when the regular season is over all that’s left for them is finding a golf course, locating a good fishing hole and building a hunting blind.
And they wanted to put the Cincinnati Reds in the same place — prevent them from winning a wild card playoff spot.
They nearly succeeded by winning the first two games of a three-game series over the weekend, knocking the Reds 2 1/2 games away from the third qualifying spot, with Arizona and Miami ahead of them and San Francisco tied with them.
If nothing else, the Reds saved face Sunday afternoon in Great American Ball Park with a 7-1 win over the Cardinals, paced by three players coming off the injured list.
—Hunter Greene, fresh off the COVID-19 injured list, held the Cardinals to one hit and one run over six innings.
—Jonathan India hadn’t played since July 28 due to plantar faciitis. On the third pitch he saw from St. Louis pitcher Miles Mikolas in the third inning, he crushed his 15th home run over the left field fence to give the Reds a 1-0 lead.
—Joey Votto, still rehabbing a stiff shoulder, came back on his 40th birthday and cranked an eighth inning home run after driving in a run in the sixth inning with a ground ball.
In all, the Reds abused St. Louis pitching for four solo home runs — India, Will Benson, who also doubled and singled, TJ Friedl, who also tripled, and Votto.
And the bullpen protected the one-hitter over the last three innings and 17 of the last 18 Cardinals walked back to the dugout hitless.
The only St. Louia hit came in the fourth. Nolan Arenado opened the inning by reaching on third baseman Spencer Steer’s error.. Greene walked Tyler O’Neill and catcher Andrew Knizner singled to center, the only hit, scoring Arenado.
That cut Cincinnati’s lead to 2-1 and they had runners on third and second with two outs. Greene snuffed the uprising by striking out Masyn Winn.
Greene struck out nine, walked four and went to eight full counts, which mounted his pitch count to 109 after six innings and he had to leave.
He walked one St. Louis batter in each of the first four innings, but none scored and only one advanced beyond first base.
“Walks were frustrating,” said Greene at his post-game media interview. “I know I am better. But overall, being able to put guys away when I needed to. . .I did a good job of that. I feel today was good and I have to keep building off of it.”
Votto said Greene was not at his best, but what he did proves how good he really is.
“If you ask Hunter, I’m sure he would say he was not at his best best,” said Votto. “He only gave up one hit, but he didn’t look like he was. . .well, that’s how good he is. I’m trying to pay a compliment to him. That’s how good he is that he ended up giving up only one hit and one run, coming back from COVID. That’s impressive.”
Although the Reds remain 1 1/2 games behind Arizona and a game behind Miami in the wild card chase, Votto is optimistic.
Asked if the team believes it can qualify for the playoffs, Votto said, “Well, of course. Of course. There is no doubt, there is no hesitation. There is no talk like that, nobody is thinking like that.
“We collectively don’t even think about that,” he added. “There is no sort-of let-up here. We’re motivated to make things happen here and you saw it today.”
Manager David Bell shuffled his batting order, moving Elly De La Cruz from third to second, placing Steer in clean-up, playing Nick Martini in left and placing the returning Votto and India back-to-back at sixth and seventh.
It produced the four-homer, 10-hit assault. Benson’s three hits led the way with Friedl and Steer adding two.
Of his home run, Votto said, “It feels good to be part of a team win. We’re driving toward, ideally, a playoff berth and go from there.
“We had great performances from so many guys today,” he added. “Guys are frothing at the mouth every day to be a part of this lineup, to be part of a Reds win. It’s so fun participate in it.”
After breaking a three-game losing streak, the Reds embark on a six-game trip, three in Detroit that begins Monday and three in New York against the Mets.