CINCINNATI -- After an incredible eighth-inning escape act that positioned the Cardinals to steal a seesaw affair, the man they call Stone Buddha showed a costly crack.
Attempting the first two-inning save of his Major League career, Seung Hwan Oh served up a 412-foot blast to Scott Schebler that ended an evening in which some bold bullpen maneuvering and double switching by manager Mike Matheny didn't pay off. The 7-5 loss to the Reds on Tuesday was the Cardinals' third this season when leading after eight innings.
"I believe as a bullpen that we're better than what we showed tonight," said its newest addition, Zach Duke. "We'll be more consistent."
Though Oh was stung with his second loss of the season, the bullpen teetered on the edge of disaster all night. It was put in a precarious spot, too, with Adam Wainwright's short start. For the first time since June, Wainwright was unable to pitch beyond the fifth. A series of lengthy innings -- he threw at least 23 pitches in three frames -- left him with a pitch count of 101 after five.
"I connect those dots," Wainwright said. "A starter's job is to go as deep as you can. Five innings is not cutting it really. I wasn't sharp, wasn't crisp."
Duke debuted behind Wainwright, and pitching for the first time since Friday, showed some rust. After walking two with two outs, Duke gave way to Kevin Siegrist. Siegrist bailed him out of that mess, only to surrender the lead an inning later when he served up an Adam Duvall homer. Matt Bowman had to finish that inning.
Matheny then made his third mid-inning pitching swap after Jonathan Broxton, with two walks and a Matt Adams error, loaded the bases with no out in the eighth. Matheny called upon Oh, his steadiest reliever this season, with the hope of squeezing six outs out of him. A six-pitch escape in the eighth to preserve a one-run lead set Oh up nicely to return for the ninth.
First, however, he would have to come out to bat.
Matheny's series of moves had left Oh double-switched into the cleanup spot, and Reds manager Bryan Price forced Matheny's hand when, after the Cardinals put two on and two out in the top of the ninth, he intentionally walked Jeremy Hazelbaker to bring the inning to Oh. Matheny, who had Seth Maness warming in the 'pen, opted to send the rookie reliever out to take three strikes instead of replacing him with his lone remaining bench player -- Alberto Rosario. That would have handed the bottom of the ninth over to Maness.
"That's the only guy I want on the mound right there," Matheny said of Oh. "We knew that when we put him in. … When you're fighting to stay in it and coming back as much as we do, you have to use up your pieces. You have to try and take every shot that you can."
Thirteen pitches later, the Reds had a pair of singles and a towering walk-off home run, spoiling an opportunity for the Cardinals to leap the Marlins for the second National League Wild Card spot.
The blown save was Oh's second of the season and first since being moved into the closer's role in late June. Afterward, he left the clubhouse without comment.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.