The St. Louis Cardinals saved the debut of their new, multidimensional offense until their home opener, using a combination of timely hitting and speed on the basepaths to beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-3.
Starting pitcher Michael Wacha, robbed in his first start of the season of a win despite pitching 6 2/3 shutout innings, seemed to be in trouble in the first inning when Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton led off with his first hit of the season, a double.
Oddly, Brandon Phillips bunted Hamilton over to third to bring up slugging first baseman Joey Votto with a runner at third base. Votto hit a ground ball to Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong and Hamilton seemed to hesitate before heading home. He ended up getting caught in a rundown and eventually was tagged out by Wong who joined the hot box at third base.
It was the Redbirds, instead, who drew first blood when Matt Carpenter led off with a single. St. Louis centerfielder Peter Bourjos matched Hamilton by getting his first hit of the season to put runners on first and second with no outs and Matt Holliday walked to load the bases.
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Allen Craig struck out to strand the runners. But Yadier Molina, with two strikes, belted a ball to the left centerfield gap and plated all three runners with Bourjos impressing the crowd with his speed around the basepaths and Holliday hustling in behind him to score.
The game would remain 3-0 until the fifth when the Reds scored a single run. The Cardinals got a one-out double from Bourjos followed by singles from Craig and Holliday to make the score 5-1.
In the bottom of the ninth the Reds made things more interesting than necessary when St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal struggled to throw strikes and walked Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick. He gave up a line drive single to Todd Frazier and a bloop safety to Zack Cozart before finally settling and striking out Brayan Pena and finishing the game off with a couple of fly outs.
Bourjos motored around the bases to score twice in the game and Wong managed to become the first Cardinals player to steal a base this season. St. Louis didn't really bust out in the hits department with nine during the game. But the Redbirds found a way to make their baserunners count.
As usual, Phillips was the star of the show going on in his mind. He waved to the crowd when he was booed during player introductions. And then he shrank in the spotlight for the rest of the game, gutlessly bunting in the first when the Reds had a chance for a big inning then grounding into a rally-killing double play in the third, ending the inning with a lineout in the fifth and striking out in the eighth. Phillips bailed on a potential double play ball hit by Yadier Molina, throwing a ball off balance for an error on the relay.
Meanwhile, the game was the most complete defensive contest the Birds have played this year. Wong made a great play to rob the Reds of hit when he snagged a Bruce liner while playing in short right field as part of a shift. Carpenter made a very nice spinning play out on an island at third when he was the only guy on the left side of the infield.
Cardinals Star of the Game: Wacha scattered seven hits over six innings. But he pitched out of trouble the one time he really got into it. The run he allowed left him with an 0.71 ERA through two games. He struck out three and walked one.
Cardinals Play of the Game: Molina's first inning double set the tone. Without it, the Redbirds would have found themselves in another nip and tuck game. And who knows how it would have turned out?
Lowlight: It was odd to see Rosenthal struggle to find the strike zone. Hopefully it was just a muddy mound or something like that. I don't like when closers beat around the bush and get behind on the count.