CINCINNATI -- Despite squandered chances to pad their lead early, the Cardinals clung to the advantage they built with a four-run first inning to even their series against the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday night. With Stephen Piscotty's fifth-inning homer providing the necessary insurance, the Cardinals nabbed a 5-4 victory that inched them past the Marlins and into sole possession of the second National League Wild Card spot.
There were a combined 68 pitches thrown to 16 batters in the first inning, though the Cardinals came out of it with a 4-2 lead. Brandon Moss delivered a key two-run double and Greg Garcia added a two-out RBI single as St. Louis sent nine batters to the plate against Reds starter Cody Reed.
"Those guys put up a great first inning off a tough lefty," said Cardinals starter Michael Wacha. "I felt really good in the first, just didn't have the command I was looking for. I had a couple two-strike counts where I left the ball over the middle of the plate, and they didn't miss it. That got me in trouble early on."
As Wacha grappled for that command, Cincinnati took two of those back after it opened the bottom half of the frame with three straight singles -- including Joey Votto's RBI knock, which extended the longest hitting streak of his career to 17 games. Wacha settled in from there and allowed two hits over the next four innings. He, like Reed, turned the game over to the bullpen after a five-inning performance.
Just before Reed departed, Piscotty crushed one of his first-pitch fastballs for his 15th home run of the season. It came one pitch after Reds right fielder Scott Schebler robbed Jedd Gyorko of a solo shot.
"He's not as acute with the command. There's a lot faster tempo, and I think it's taking him a little bit of time to settle in," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "Unfortunately, by that time, they got four runs in. It's a big inning, and we're digging ourselves out of that hole."
The Reds pulled to within one during an eventful sixth inning that featured a pair of replay reviews. Cardinals reliever Matt Bowman surrendered RBI singles to Brandon Phillips and Ivan De Jesus Jr. The three relievers to follow him -- all of whom struggled during Tuesday's bullpen blowup -- threw a scoreless inning.
"We've got a good bullpen," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "You're going to have nights [like Tuesday's walk-off loss]. They erased that one and came out and were very good for us in the back end of the game."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Quick start: After going 0-for-8 on his recent rehab assignment, Moss has burst out of the gates since being activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. He followed a three-hit game in the series opener with a two-double performance. Oddly, he's not used to having this sort of success at Great American Ball Park. He entered the week 17-for-83 with six extra-base hits here in his career. He has tallied four extra-base hits in this series.
"To come in and contribute, that's why you want to come back," Moss said. "We're trying to make a push. We're trying to get to a place [in the playoffs]. Our goal has been that from Day 1, and my goal is to be a big part of that."
Glove man: Price gave Schebler the start in right field to see how he could play out there. Pretty well, it seems. Schebler, who won Tuesday night's game with a walk-off homer as the starting left fielder, made his presence known defensively with a pair of outstanding plays. Two innings before Schebler's amazing leaping grab at the wall, Matt Holliday led off the third inning by ripping a shot toward the right-field corner. Schebler hustled over to cut the ball off, then spun and threw a strike to shortstop De Jesus in plenty of time to get Holliday, who tried to stretch his single into a double. It saved a run as Moss followed with a double. More >
Slow down: The Cardinals could have raced out to a much bigger lead earlier had the club not run into so many outs on the bases. Both Tommy Pham and Holliday were tagged out between third and home during the team's four-run first inning.
After his double in the third, Moss was thrown out trying to go home on a ground ball to the shortstop. According to Baseball-Reference, the Cardinals have run into the third-most number of outs (40) on the bases this season.
Taking lumps: Reed is still looking for his first Major League win, but more importantly, he is still seeking any level of consistency. Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Reds' No. 3 prospect, Reed gave up five runs on eight hits in five innings, the seventh time in his eight starts he has allowed at least three earned runs. The lone exception came against Atlanta on July 19, when both runs he allowed were unearned. Reed has pitched past the fifth inning just twice since his callup from Triple-A Louisville on June 18.
"I feel like I go into each one [good], but I'm not really performing to the best of my ability right now," said Reed. "They were pretty aggressive the first pitch. That home run that I gave up wasn't where I wanted it, but a first-pitch swinger and it goes over the fence. It's another thing to work on on my side day in two days. We'll try to get better from there."
"I'm glad that the same thing didn't happen in a row. I was happy to contribute for a win." -- Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh, who, one day after blowing a save, stranded the potential tying run at second to notch No. 8
"Not a whole lot of guys that come up here and immediately succeed. A lot of guys get punched in the face and they have to get back up and punch back. He's been punched a few times, and he's got to get back up and punch back a little bit and be better in those early innings." -- Price, on Reed, who is now 0-6 this season
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Josh Smith became the first Reds pitcher to deliver a pinch-hit in six years when he led off the fifth inning with a double past third base. Smith, pinch-hitting for Reed, remained in the game and pitched two scoreless innings with three strikeouts to keep the Reds in the game. The last Reds pitcher to come up with a hit in a pinch-hitting role was Micah Owings on June 15, 2010, against Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
A three-minute, 24-second review in the sixth inning overturned a Piscotty error due to fan interference. Piscotty made a sliding attempt on Adam Duvall's popup along the right-field foul line, kicked it away and then stumbled as he got back on his feet. Duvall kept running to third and then trotted home when Piscotty's throw sailed past third baseman Gyorko and was gloved by a fan. He was sent back to third, though, after it was determined that the fan reached over the railing to snag the ball. The reversal ultimately didn't matter, as Duvall came around to score on a subsequent single by Phillips.
A second review later in the inning did aid the Reds. Initially called out as part of a double play, Phillips was awarded second base after a two-minute, five-second review showed that Gyorko did not have his foot on the base as he tried to turn two. That positioned Phillips to score on De Jesus' single.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: St. Louis will close out a 10-game, 11-day road trip on Thursday at 11:35 a.m. CT as Mike Leake (8-8, 4.50 ERA) takes the mound in the rubber game of a three-game series in Cincinnati. This will be Leake's second time starting at Great American Ball Park since the Reds traded him last summer. He allowed six runs in a no-decision there back in June.
Reds: Left-hander Brandon Finnegan (6-8, 4.68 ERA) tossed six shutout innings last Friday at San Diego, his best outing in more than a month. He has won three of his last four decisions and will look to continue those positive trends in Thursday's 12:35 p.m. ET start.