The Cardinals had been out-homered 12-6 during their winning streak of five games here but 11 of those home runs had come with nobody on base, and manager Mike Shildt noted that solo home runs usually don’t beat you. But then the Cincinnati Reds cracked four of those, plus a two-run homer, plus a bunch of other hits as they crushed the Cardinals 12-1 Friday night at Busch Stadium.
The Red Stockings (this is the 150th anniversary of baseball’s oldest franchise) came into the game with the National League’s worst batting average at .200. But they unloaded three home runs, all with nobody on base, in the first five innings against Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas. And they added a two-run shot off Tyler Webb and yet another solo homer off Dominic Leone, who was roughed up for six runs in the ninth inning before infielder Jedd Gyorko got the final out on a strikeout.
“I think our whole staff thinks the balls are juiced to see balls kind of flying out like this,” said Mikolas. But he added, “When you throw pitches down the middle, everyone’s probably better than a .200 hitter.”
The Reds’ pitching had something to do with this debacle, of course. After years of being at the bottom of the earned run average standings, the Reds entered with the second lowest ERA in the league at 3.24. And they did nothing to alter that statistic.
Anthony DeSclafani, who has beaten the Cardinals six times in eight career decisions, blanked them on four hits over six innings. The Reds’ bullpen permitted just one run over the final three innings and the Cincinnati defense was splendid all night, both in the infield and outfield.
Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong said the Reds are not to be dismissed. “They’re a good team, man. I think people always overlook them. But this is a team we never overlooked. We just know that if we don’t put them away early, they’re going to come. And they’re not going to stop.”
Paul DeJong, who knocked in the only Cardinals’ run with a seventh-inning single, said, “Overall we know their bullpen pretty well. I think we’re confident we can score on their bullpen. It’s just about setting the tone early.”
This was the first game in their initial 25 that the Cardinals had been clobbered. “These games aren’t common for us,” Shildt said. “Twenty-five games in and you have a game that gets away. So, we’ll take another 25.
“One of those days. Wasn’t our day.”
Mikolas (2-2) allowed three home runs in a game for the second time this season. “Mistakes didn’t come back,” Shildt said.
Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker and Joey Votto homered off Mikolas. Yasiel Puig, who has six homers in his past four games at Busch, including a three-homer game for Los Angeles last year, walloped a two-run homer off Webb. Jose Peraza, the ninth-place hitter, whacked a 432-foot drive off Leone in the ninth.
After six consecutive hitters reached base against Leone with two outs in the ninth, Shildt emerged from the dugout with Gyorko alongside. Normally, a manager brings a pitcher back with him during a change. He rarely comes out with one.
Shildt admitted he didn’t exactly know how to orchestrate the move. “Do we go together? Do you go on the side? Do I go to the umpire? But it’s not a double switch. I said, ‘Jedd, come on. Let’s go out,’’’ Shildt said.
Gyorko had a couple of hitters’ advance notice, Shildt said. “I said, ‘Tell me when you’re ready.’ There wasn’t a phone call involved.”
The end came quickly as Gyorko threw four pitches and fanned pinch hitter Phillip Ervin on a 68 mph offering. “It looked like maybe a backup slider,” Shildt said.
The Cardinals then let the pitcher hit in the ninth and Gyorko, who had been one for 13 this year, singled, only to be thrown out, unwisely trying for a double.
The Cardinals had scored two victories, back to back, during the winning streak, in which they had given up four homers on each occasion. Those were the first two such instances in which they had won a game in 14 seasons at Busch Stadium III. They would not be able to overcome five home runs.
“You give up five. That’s hard,” said Shildt.
Cincinnati, which lost eight of its first nine under new manager David Bell, a former Cardinals player and coach, has won 10 of its last 16.
Though the score already was 6-1 when he had entered the game in the ninth, Leone, who had been excellent with a 1.64 ERA in his first 11 appearances, was beside himself afterward,
“It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort. I’m pretty much dumbfounded, really,” Leone said.
“I thought I made some pretty decent pitches. It seemed like tonight they didn’t miss much at all. Any mistake was hit hard. Unfortunately, it was as bad as it could possibly get. It’s just very, very disappointing. Very disappointing.
He said it had nothing to do with his ERA skyrocketing to 6.17.
“The numbers aren’t necessarily something I’d be concerned with,” he said. “If it’s five runs, six runs ... it is what it is. The worst part about it is the guys playing behind you that are just dragging, like, ‘Damn. Come on.’ They want to get off the field. If you keep the game close, you always have a chance.
“But when stuff starts going like that, it’s not only a disservice, yes, to my personal numbers and all that nonsense, it’s more of a downfall for the team and for the guys playing their butts off and had some energy. For things to go sideways like that, it turns it into a complete wash. That’s what I’m most upset about.”