By Hal McCoy
Luke Weaver did the best any pitcher can do while trying to beat the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday afternoon in Great American Ball Park — no runs, three hits in 6 1/3 innings of masterful pitching.
On most days, perhaps 99 per cent of the time, that means a victor for you and a victory for your team.
But his Cincinnati Reds teammates could do nothing offensively to help him against St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas.
He matched Weaver zero-for-zero — no runs, five hits in seven inning of equally masterful pitching.
So it came down to a bullpen match-up and the Reds lost that battle and the game, 2-1.
The teams split the four-game series, but Cincinnati’s loss knocked it back into last place in the National League Center.
The fatal inning for the Reds was the eighth with Lucas Sims on the mound trying to protect a 0-0 tie.
He easily retired the first two Cardinals, but came apart after that when two hits, two wild pitches and a stolen base enabled St. Louis to score its two runs.
With two outs, Lars Nootbaar singled and took second on a wild pitch. Nolan Gorman doubled to break the 0-0 tie. Gorman then stole third and came home on another wild pitch to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
The Reds had a myriad of chances to score in the first eight inning and broke through in the ninth for a run and left the potential tying run on first base.
With one out, Spencer Steer doubled off St. Louis relief pitcher Giovany Gallegos. Nick Senzel struck out for the second out, but Stuart Fairchld ripped the next pitch into left fielde to score Steer. The game ended when Luke Maile struck out on three pitches.
The first Reds’ opportunity surfaced in the first when they had runners on third and first with one out, but Jake Fraley hit into a double play.
The next opportunity came in the fifth when Steer led with a single, but the next three Reds made routine outs.
The best chance surfaced in the sixth when TJ Friedl and Matt McLain opened with singles, putting runners on third and first with no outs.
Friedl was over-aggressive and tried to score from third on a grounder to third by Jonathan India and was throw out at home. Fraley flied to left and Tyler Stephenson grounded into an inning-concluding fielder’s choice.
Another opportunity came in the eighth whewn Cardinals relief pitcher Drew VerHagen issued back-to-back one-out walks to Friedl and McLain, but India popped up and Gallegos came in to retire Fraley.
India, batting third for the second time in his career, stranded four runners in his last two at bats. Friedl, batting leadoff, was on base all four times he batted via error, two singles and a walk, but didn’t score. Steer had two hits and scored the Reds’ only run.
The Reds were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight. After banging 18 hits Wednesday in a 10-3 win, the Reds scored one run on seven hits Thursday.
Weaver bobbed and weaved out of the few problems that surfaced. The Cardinals never had more than one baserunner in an inning until the seventh.
With one out in the seventh, Alec Burleson singled and Juan Yepez was hit with a 3-and-2 pitch. Sims replaced Weaver and Yepez took a nap and was picked off first. Sims then struck out Tommy Edman.
Weaver issued his only walk with one out in the first on a full cout to Gorman. Nothing came of it.
Yepez doubled with one out in the second and reached third on a ground ball. Nothing came of it.
Weaver retired 10 straight until Andrew Knizer doubled with two outs in the fifth. Nothing came of it.
The Cardinals were 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven.
St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol decided it was a good day to give his two best hitters, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, a day of rest. He got away with it. . .barely. The Cardinals had only six hits, two by catcher and number eight hitter Knizner, neither of which did any damage.
The Reds, losers in eight of their last 11 games, open a three-game series Friday afternoon in Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs, losers in seven of their last 10 before playing the New York Mets Thursday night.