A misplayed ball in left field opened the door for the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.
Cincinnati left fielder Marlon Byrd allowed Jhonny Peralta’s bloop hit to turn into a double, igniting a three-run seventh that propelled the Cardinals past the Reds 6-1 before a sellout crowd of 46,462 at Busch Stadium.
The outburst made a winner of Michael Wacha (2-0), who outdueled Johnny Cueto as the Cardinals (6-3) won their third in a row and moved into first place in the NL Central.
Matt Holliday singled against Cueto (0-2) to start the seventh. After Matt Adams struck out, Peralta’s soft line drive bounced on the warning track on the third-base side and went to the right of Byrd, allowing Holliday to go to third and Peralta to reach second.
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Jon Jay was intentionally walked, and Yadier Molina followed with a three-run double into the left-field corner that put the Cardinals ahead to stay at 4-1.
Molina understood why Reds manager Bryan Price decided to walk Jay.
“That’s baseball,” Molina said, adding that the strategy did not alter his approach. “Try to get a good pitch to hit and try to make good contact. Everybody knows I’ve been in the league 12 years and I’m an aggressive guy. It was special, a good moment. Glad we got the win.”
Molina pumped his fist on his way to first and celebrated again at second after he saw Jay slide safely across home plate.
“That ball took a funny hop,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Byrd’s mishap, which took Cincinnati out of a double-play situation. “That’s a tough play, especially where they had him played. (We were) just aggressive on the bases to try to push it a little bit.
“Yadi is the story there. He gets into a situation where he knows they pitched around Jay to get to him and you can’t wait to step up there. He’s feeling much more confident at the plate and we like it when he’s in a spot that he’s in right now.”
Wacha allowed one run on five hits in seven innings, with one walk and four strikeouts. Matheny said Wacha relied on fastballs, cutters and curveballs more than his typical allotment of changeups, but Wacha said it was all about being aggressive.
“I wouldn’t say (I pitched) too differently,” he said. “I was just trying to attack them. Early on, I was a little jumpy. I think I was a little too excited out there, leaving balls up in the zone. But after the first couple of innings, I was able to settle down and start working down in the zone a little more.”
Matheny said it was satisfying to see Wacha succeed while using a different style.
“He center-cut a pitch to (Joey) Votto and he made him pay early on,” Matheny said. “After that, he really did a nice job of at least keeping it on the edges and throwing good pitches in tough counts – and putting a little movement on it. Once again, that’s not something we always see from him, so it was nice to see him figure out a way to pitch a little different style.”
Cincinnati took a 1-0 lead in the first on Votto’s fourth home run, a drive into the seats in right-center. It was the first homer in 210 at-bats this season at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis countered the Reds with a run in the first as Matt Carpenter doubled and scored one out later on Matt Holliday’s sacrifice fly to center. Carpenter, batting .378 (14-for-37) had two doubles, giving him a team-leading six, and has five consecutive multihit games.
“Certainly, I feel good at the plate right now,” Carpenter said. “I feel as close to, if not better, than I felt in 2013. Everything is kind of clicking right now.
“Last year, I kind of got off to a slow start and never really felt comfortable in the box. It was just a grind all season. I ended up putting together a decent year while never really feeling good. But right now, I feel great and I hope I can keep that going.”
Wacha and Cueto then found their rhythm after the first. Cueto set down St. Louis in order in the second, third, fifth and sixth; Wacha retired the Reds one-two-three in the fourth and sixth. Cueto allowed four runs (earned) on six hits in seven innings, walking one and striking out 10.
The Cardinals put the game out of reach in the eighth with two runs against J.J. Hoover. Carpenter’s second double of the game preceded a walk by Holliday, an error on second baseman Brandon Phillips that scored Carpenter and a sacrifice fly by Peralta that scored pinch-runner Peter Bourjos.