The St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday allowed small problems to become big ones and dropped the second game of their series with the Cincinnati Reds.
Starter Michael Wacha, pitching his second game back in the big leagues after missing half the season with a shoulder injury, hung a curve and gave up a two-run homer in the first inning but seemed to settle. He put up zeroes in the second and third and allowed a single run in the fourth to leave the Cardinals behind 3-1.
But the wheels came off in the fourth inning when Wacha lit the match by allowing Brayan Pena to reach with a walk. He managed to get a ground ball to second base that seemed like a sure double play. But Kolten Wong booted the ball to light the kindling, turning a chance for two outs into none. And then Devin Mesoraco doubled to fan the flames and push a run across the plate. Wacha, who reached his pitch limit, was pulled and the Redbirds poured gasoline on the fire by bringing in Jason Motte who allowed a double and two singles that plated three runs and put Cincinnati ahead 7-1.
Cardinals fans changed the channel in droves. But the Birds managed to load the bases in the top of the seventh. They scored three runs to make the difference 7-4 and had the tying run on base but pinch hitter A.J. Pierzynski's line drive that appeared headed to the right field corner was snagged by the Reds first baseman to end the threat.
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While St. Louis could draw no closer, Redbirds fans who stuck around got a chance to see the major league debuts of reliever Sam Tuivailala and outfielder Tommy Pham. The rookie pitcher got his first strikeout but proved to be a raw thrower more than a pitcher and ended up contributing to a back-breaking additional pair of runs being scored by Cincinnati. Pham worked a 3-1 count against Reds reliever JJ Hoover and then fouled off a couple of tough pitches before striking out on a high pitch out of the strike zone.
Xavier Scruggs, who made his MLB debut in the Cardinals series against the Brewers, collected his first big league hit and RBI by doubling with a loud crack of the bat.
The Cardinals ended up losing 9-5. But the bright side is that the Philladelphia Phillies knocked off the Pittsburgh Pirates to keep the Birds 4 1/2 games against the Bucs. With one more game crossed off the schedule, that's a win for St. Louis. The Redbirds' magic number to qualify for the playoffs shrank to 12.