Cards slip to second
By Joe Strauss
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Cardinals lefthander Mark Mulder needed one more win Monday to reach No. 100 for his career. Betrayed by his bullpen in his previous start, Mulder was betrayed by location this time.
Location mistake No. 1: Mulder's pitches were too high too often.
Location mistake No. 2: Mulder was caught pitching on the same field as Bronson Arroyo.
Rising up against a team that has consistently pummeled them in recent years, the Cincinnati Reds leveraged a four-run sixth inning and another dazzling effort by their spring training find, Arroyo (5-0), to take down the Cardinals 6-1 before a not-so-great crowd of 20,900 at Great American Ball Park.
In a clash of April titans
, Arroyo held the Cardinals to four hits and became the second Reds pitcher in three years to win his first five decisions.
After entering the game riding a 15-inning scoreless streak, he made his only mistake on a bases-empty, second-inning home run by right fielder Juan Encarnacion. The upper-deck blast was Encarnacion's second in as many games and deprived Arroyo of his first career shutout. Arroyo instead settled for his second career complete game. Arroyo's 109-pitch outing allowed the Reds (18-8) to break a first-place tie with the Cardinals (17-9), who lost for only the third time in 12 games.
Just 12-27 the past three seasons against the Cardinals, the Reds scored first on first baseman Rich Aurilia's two-out home run in the first inning. They struck again with two outs in the fifth inning when shortstop Felipe Lopez snapped an 0-for-17 skid with an RBI single. And they struck with four consecutive hits to chase Mulder before he could get an out in the sixth.
"It was a pitching duel for the first five (innings), then he makes some mistakes in the one inning, they capitalize, and Arroyo didn't make any mistakes," manager Tony La Russa said. "Overall, they just played better."
Said Cardinals left fielder John Rodriguez, who doubled and singled for half the hits against Arroyo, "He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he's smart. He knows where his pitches are going. He just had a really good game today."
The Reds lost 89 games and finished 27 games behind the Cardinals last season. However, a pitching staff that previously resembled a toxic waste dump found an ace in the wild-haired Arroyo when the Reds acquired him from the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Wily Mo Pena. The Reds have spent eight days in first place so far, the Cardinals three.
Arroyo, who lowered his ERA to 2.06, has amassed more strikeouts (34) than hits allowed (29). The other four Reds starters have a combined 5.61 ERA.
"Any pitcher can make a mistake, and we're good enough to capitalize," La Russa said. "But (Arroyo) did enough good things. He got a lot of outs in a lot of different parts of the zone. That's good pitching. If we pitch good, I always think there's a chance we're going to break through any particular inning."
Said reliever Josh Hancock, abruptly released by the Reds this spring before signing with the Cardinals, "Their offense is good. Their offense was good last year. It was good the year before. They're just clicking on all cylinders right now. They're first in the division after the first month. That says something. You put that kind of offense in this kind of park and special things will happen."
It got real special for the Reds in Monday's sixth inning.
Left fielder Adam Dunn led off with an opposite-field double on a too-high cutter. Right fielder Austin Kearns singled to make it a 3-1 game. Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion produced the inning's third straight hit before second baseman Brandon Phillips delivered a two-strike single to score Kearns for a three-run lead.
Mulder's night was done. The Reds beat him for the third time in seven starts with the Cardinals. They've raked him for 65 hits in 49 1/3 innings and a 5.97 ERA with the Redbirds and are the only NL team to have beaten him three times since his trade from the Oakland A's.
"I don't know what it is about this team. They've got a pretty good approach, especially against me," said Mulder. "Even in the first couple innings, I'm throwing good sinkers down and away, cutters down and in, and they're hitting one-hoppers right at guys. A lot of the pitches I was throwing, especially late, were up."
Mulder (2-1) allowed the Reds 11 hits in an April start last season, 12 in a four-inning June appearance and walked seven in a meaningless September outing. He also shut them out for seven innings of a win in May.
"When he makes pitches, he can pitch against anybody," La Russa said. "When he doesn't, he's vulnerable."
The Reds led the league in runs last season but were crushed by incompetent pitching. They entered Monday ranked 12th in the league in ERA, not great but good enough to back an offense responsible for a plus-21 run differential.
"To me, it seems like the same lineup as last year. But they're obviously pitching a lot better," Mulder noted. "When you put together some pitching and all of a sudden get a little more confidence, I think it says a lot for a team."
The Reds attach much of that to Arroyo, a member of Boston's '04 championship team.
"He's meant a lot to us," Lopez said. "He's got the personality of being on a winning team. He has a lot of experience in the postseason, and we're feeding off of that."