CINCINNATI — The Cardinals had chance after chance after chance in the late innings Monday to turn a tie game into their latest triumph on the climb back to contention.
It took the Reds only one.
Cincinnati’s Nick Senzel, a swatsmith enough for a little situational hitting, skied a fly ball to right field that was deep enough to score Spencer Steer on a sacrifice fly that sent the Reds to a 6-5 victory in the 10th inning at Great American Ball Park. Steer started the inning on second base, per Major League Baseball’s extra-inning speed-up rule, and took third on a wild pitch to be a 90-foot run from a walk-off win. The inning found Senzel with no outs, and he gave it the first one — and that was enough.
Steer outran Tommy Edman’s throw from right field for the winning run.
The Reds did not have an official at-bat with a runner in scoring position in the 10th inning, and did not need one to win. The Cardinals had six at-bats with a runner in scoring position in the ninth and 10th innings combined and could not cash in on one.
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The Cardinals, who twice rallied to tie or take the lead in the game, had a gift of an opportunity in the top of the ninth when Reds reliever Alexis Diaz sprinkled the sparks of a rally all over the bases.
And then, having rigged the inning for the highest degree of difficulty, Diaz promptly doused it.
Diaz walked three Cardinals in the inning and ended up facing pivotal at-bats against the Cardinals’ two highest-paid hitters and their budding young slugger. Edman walked to lead off the ninth and stole second to assure each of his teammates who followed had a chance with the go-ahead run in scoring position. But between each walk, Diaz struck out an MVP finalist from 2022 — first Paul Goldschmidt and then, with two on, Nolan Arenado. When Diaz walked Lars Nootbaar to load the bases with two outs, he invited reigning National League Player of the Week Nolan Gorman to flip the game.
Diaz struck him out on four pitches.
Gorman played the leading role in tying the game in the eighth inning. His one-out double extended his hitting streak to 12 games, and shortstop Paul DeJong followed with his second extra-base hit of the game. DeJong’s RBI double scored Gorman, leveled the game 5-5 and gave him seven RBIs in the span of five at-bats, four of them in Monday’s first nine innings.
DeJong fuels brief lead
The Reds had two doubles before Jordan Montgomery threw his fourth pitch, and before the Cardinals’ lefty got his second out Cincinnati already had put three runners at second base.
In a burst of hits and one wild pitch to open the game, the Reds had pounced on Montgomery for a 2-0 lead.
It took one pitch to erase it.
Cardinals shortstop DeJong, showing off the power of reinvention, drilled the first pitch he faced for a three-run homer in the bottom of the second inning that claimed the Cardinals’ first lead. The home run was DeJong’s eighth of the season — and he spent the opening weeks of it in the minors on a rehab assignment. The former All-Star scored four runs in Sunday’s win against the Dodgers. His final at-bat of that game was a three-run homer, meaning on consecutive swings he produced two three-run homers.
DeJong’s eight home runs this season in 79 at-bats already are more than the six he had in 210 at-bats last season.
Montgomery misplaces lead on Cincy specialThere are, according to the hyper-metric site Baseball Savant, 20 ballparks that would have contained the fly ball that flipped the game on Montgomery, and good portion of them likely would have allowed the outfield to run down and catch the ball.
Instead, it was a home run, Cincinnati-style like chili, an acquired taste.
"Still a home run in 10," Montgomery said.
He referred to his outing as "grindy."
Montgomery had difficulty navigating around the top of the Reds’ lineup. If it wasn’t the doubles of the first inning or the single in the fourth, it was Steer’s home run in the third. No. 2 hitter Matt McLain slipped a single to right field for his second hit in as many at-bats against Montgomery, and Steer followed with a lofted fly ball toward left.
Cincinnati’s ballpark, in which baseball sometimes can feel like pinball, has a high wall in left but a short porch. Not nearly as tall as Fenway Park’s Green Monster but just as close to home plate in the left-center gap (379 feet), it’s a place where right-handed hitters have a blast.
Steer’s two-run homer regained the lead for the Reds, 4-3, and it hastened Montgomery’s exit from the game. The lefty would finish that inning and the fourth, but he yielded the mound before he could qualify for a win if the Cardinals found their way back to one.
Montgomery allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks.
Having a lefty off bench pays off
Either way his lineup decision was going to have a benefit for Oliver Marmol.
At the start of a seven-game swing through Ohio and a slog of 19 games in 19 days, the Cardinals’ manager opted to rest center fielder Nootbaar and not start the regular against Reds lefty Brandon Williamson. That opened center for speedy outfielder Oscar Mercado, fresh off his career-best five RBI game, and either gave Nootbaar an entire day off or stashed him on the bench for that first glimpse of a right-handed pitcher.
That came in the fifth inning.
One batter after the Reds’ lifted Williamson for reliever Buch Farmer, Nootbaar entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Juan Yepez. The Cardinals had Goldschmidt at second base after a walk and an errant pickoff. The matchup against a right-hander this early in the game and possibility of a late-inning swing for Nootbaar was too compelling, even if Farmer’s splits were not too dramatic this season. Left-handed batters have slugged .344 against Farmer while right-handed batters were just there at .318. Marmol went right to deploying the left-handed hitters. Nootbaar delivered.
The left-handed hitter pulled a ball down the right-field line that he paused as if it was going foul — until it didn’t. The ball hugged the line, found the corner and allowed Goldschmidt to score from second, knotting the game 4-4.
Marmol had a set of left-handed hitters lurking for use in the later innings and got that chance in the top of the eighth. It did not go as well as the Nootbaar move. When right-handed reliever Diaz took over after DeJong’s game-tying double, he faced left-handed batters Alec Burleson and Brendan Donovan. With opponents hitting .107 against Diaz this season, the edge was slight but there. Diaz struck out Burleson and got Donovan, hitting for catcher Andrew Knizner, to fly out.
Cardinals trip over leadoff walk
At a ballpark that usually invites games decided by going big — DeJong’s three-run homer, Steer’s two-run loft — the Reds capitalized on something smaller.
In relief of Montgomery, Andre Pallante started the fifth inning with a walk to cleanup hitter Tyler Stephenson. A single followed, and allow the next three batters did not get the ball past an infielder, the Reds were able to take a lead. The leadoff walk led directly to an RBI groundout and the 5-4 lead.
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