By Jenifer Langosch and Mark Sheldon
MLB.com |@m_sheldon |
ST. LOUIS -- With Matt Holliday back in the Cardinals' lineup for the first time in nearly two months, Matt Carpenter supplied two of the team's season-high four home runs in a 10-2 blowout victory over the Reds on Wednesday night.
St. Louis, which completed a three-game series sweep, reduced its magic number to seven for clinching the National League Central. With the Pirates also victorious on Wednesday, the Cardinals' division lead remained at four games. The Cards have won eight of their last 10.
"I feel our best baseball is ahead of us," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I've said that all season and still believe it. Just the mix of everything we know we can do, put it together for a long period of time. I think it's ahead."
The Cardinals started the scoring with Randal Grichuk's two-out solo home run in the second inning against Brandon Finnegan. In the three-run bottom of the third, Carpenter hit a two-run homer. Holliday, in the starting lineup for the first time since July 29 after he recovered from a right quad strain, added an RBI double to make it a 4-0 game. Carpenter's second two-run homer came in the fifth inning and blew the game open.
"I feel like we have a lot of guys that can swing the bat and hit for power," Grichuk said. "Unfortunately, a lot of us have been injured throughout the year, and now that we're getting healthy, it's going to be an exciting October."
Badly in need of a strong start to boost his chances to make the postseason rotation, Lance Lynn pitched six scoreless innings, with three hits, no walks and four strikeouts. In his second big league start, Finnegan gave up six earned runs and seven hits over five innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts. The killer was the three home runs allowed.
"To be honest with you, none of those were mistake pitches. Those were all good pitches," said Finnegan, who was part of the July 26 trade that sent Johnny Cueto to the Royals. "Tucker [Barnhart] called for the one to Grichuk up. It was up and he got it. All three of them were hit very high. I didn't know if they were going to go out, but they did. It's just one of those days, but I thought for the most part, my stuff was good."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Power surge: With the second multi-homer game of his career, Carpenter bumped his team-leading long ball total to 26, which, over 544 at-bats, are more than he tallied over his first four Major League seasons. From 2011-14, the infielder hit 25 homers in 1,532 at-bats. Both of Wednesday's homers were two-run blasts, giving Carpenter the fifth four-RBI game of his career.
"This is all kind of all foreign territory," said Carpenter, who, with the uptick in power, has also struck out a team-high 142 times. "I knew I could definitely do more, but where it would head, I didn't know. I'm still finding out. This has been a strange but kind of stepping-stone season for me, I think. I'd like to be somewhere in between where I was in 2013 and this year. And I think this will be that year that gets me closer to that." More >
Votto's streak continues: An oddly lined ball off Carpenter's glove near second base was ruled a single for Joey Votto in the top of the fourth inning. It also extended Votto's streak of reaching safely to 40 games -- one shy of his career high set in 2010. Leading off the seventh, Votto snapped the shutout by hitting reliever Tyler Lyons' first pitch of the night -- a 91-mph fastball -- to center field for his 29th homer of the season.
Cruz control: After all the external grumblings about how the Cardinals' pitching staff would fare sans Yadier Molina, backup catcher Tony Cruz caught three terrific starts in this series. Three Cardinals starters combined to allow two runs over 20 innings throwing to Cruz, who will remain behind the plate until Molina returns.
"That doesn't surprise us," Matheny said. "This guy pays close attention. He and Yadi are continuing to talk. They have great conversations before the game about what their plan is, and it's just business as usual. Tony has done a very good job of staying prepared."
Not how to spell relief: Reds reliever Collin Balester replaced Finnegan and was unable to hold the score. Balester faced three batters without getting an out in the sixth. His first two hitters walked before Mark Reynolds hit a two-run double to left field to make it 8-0. Ryan Mattheus replaced Balester and surrendered pinch-hitter Matt Adams' broken-bat RBI single. Balester's ERA rose from 5.23 to 7.84 -- a jump of 2.6 runs in just one appearance.
"It was just a beating. We were never really in it. We fell behind early. They kept adding on runs. We couldn't do much with Lynn." -- Reds manager Bryan Price
"You use those as fuel to get better. You're going to have bad ones. ... You use them and keep trying to improve and keep trying to get better." -- Lynn, on entering the night with a 5.34 ERA over his previous seven starts
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Cardinals used their challenge in the sixth inning, believing that Grichuk was brushed by a Balester pitch. The call on the field by home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi was that it was a foul tip. After a two-minute, 40-second review, there was not enough evidence to overturn the call. Grichuk would soon be awarded first anyway, however, as he drew a walk to end the plate appearance.
WHAT'S NEXT Reds: The final scheduled homestand of the season will commence Thursday, with another contender in the Mets visiting Great American Ball Park. The 7:10 p.m. ET opener will have Josh Smith pitching against fellow rookie Steven Matz. In his previous start, Smith lasted four innings and allowed four runs and six hits for a no-decision on Saturday at Milwaukee.
Cardinals: The Cards will close their final homestand of the regular season with four games against the Brewers, beginning with Thursday night's 6:15 pm CT series opener. Michael Wacha will get his second crack at win No. 17, and he will be opposed by Milwaukee's Taylor Jungmann.