Reds turn up heat on Cards
By Derrick Goold
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Any home-cooked notion that the Cardinals' pitching and pluck would be enough to pull away from the rest of the NL Central as in summers past has been put to the test by the Reds.
Cincinnati lefty Eric Milton held the Cardinals scoreless through seven innings and the Reds offense peppered returning ace Chris Carpenter in a 7-0 shutout on Tuesday. The Reds' victories Monday and Tuesday mean more than the Cardinals having lost consecutive home series after not losing any of their first nine. They mean more than the Cardinals, losers of four of five games, trying to tidy up what will be their first losing home stand at the new ballpark.
They mean today's game is for first place.
Cincinnati came to Busch Stadium fresh from its first sweep at Houston in seven seasons and now can try for its first sweep in St. Louis since 1998. Aaron Harang will start for the Reds, who have won six consecutive games and are a game behind the Cardinals in the standings.
"They're not sitting around waiting for us to put distance between them and us," said third baseman Scott Rolen, who had two of the four hits off Milton. Added reliever Josh Hancock: "The Reds are hot right now, and they are taking it to us."
Tuesday's game was a taut three-run contest until Carpenter (4-3) left after pitching five innings in his return from the disabled list. But in the late innings, the game became the Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn offensive bonanza
. Griffey hit two home runs Monday, including the game-winner in the ninth, and on Tuesday he reached base all five times he came to the plate.
Dunn drove him home with a two-run homer off Hancock in the seventh. Dunn drove him home with a one-run double off Brad Thompson in the ninth.
All that was embroidery on Milton's seven scoreless innings.
Milton (4-2) walked none and struck out three. A fly ball pitcher who allowed a club-record 40 home runs last season and has allowed 83 over the past two seasons, Milton had two extra-base hits tagged against him in the first three innings. Neither hitter moved past second.
A dropped fly ball in left field allowed So Taguchi to become the only Cardinal baserunner to visit third base in the game.
"Off balance, off night," second baseman Aaron Miles said. Catcher Yadier Molina echoed the sentiment: "Every time we looked for a fastball, he threw a changeup. Every time we were looking for a changeup, he threw a fastball."
The Reds' lefty was making his fourth start since coming off the disabled list after surgery to tidy up his left knee. In his past two starts he'd won one and had allowed just three earned runs over 15 2/3 innings. He had as many strikeouts May 26 - nine - as he had hits allowed in that start and Tuesday's combined.
The three runs scored off Carpenter were more than Milton needed. Carpenter pitched five innings and allowed nine hits, including four extra-base hits. He struck out five.
Carpenter had not started since May 19 in Kansas City, the game in which he first became aware of soreness in his right shoulder. An inflammation was forcing him to alter his mechanics for the sake of comfort. It was alarming enough that he missed his next two starts and was put on the 15-day disabled list.
Manager Tony La Russa said Carpenter entered Tuesday's start without a preconceived pitch count.
The Reds pounced on Carpenter early, and early in counts. The second batter of the game, Felipe Lopez, nailed an 0-2 "spinning cutter" over the middle of the plate for a solo home run to right field.
In the second, Cincinnati was more aggressive
. Scott Hatteberg doubled on the first pitch. Brandon Phillips doubled to score Hatteberg on the second pitch Carpenter threw to him. And Phillips scored one pitch later when David Ross singled to center field.
Carpenter said his pitches continued to find more of the plate than intended, and were higher than designed.
"I'm not going to make any excuses," Carpenter said when asked if such issues could be layoff-related. "If I felt I was rusty or if I felt I needed something else, I would have made a rehab start. I was confident with stuff. I just left some pitches - too many - over the plate."
The Cardinals' starters enter tonight, the finale of the home stand, with a 4.69 ERA over their nine games. Before Tuesday's game, La Russa remarked that pitching coach Dave Duncan had said there was "a need to pitch better" and that it wasn't just the high profile burnouts by the bullpen.
The starters continue to lead the league in wins with 27, but their past four starts have done a number on their ERA. In the four games between Sidney Ponson's last start and his start tonight, the starters' ERA is 6.35.
Carpenter was removed after three batters reached base in the fifth inning, but he maneuvered enough that not one scored. The Cardinals' ace was helped by a baserunning blunder by Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. On Hatteberg's single, Encarnacion rounded second and sped for third without seeing Griffey stop at third. Encarnacion pulled up and hurt his ankle. A throw across the diamond from Jim Edmonds caught Encarnacion for the second out shortly before the third baseman was helped from the field.
The Reds said Encarnacion sprained his ankle.