Cardinals sent down to defeat on walk-off in ninth
Wacha fans seven over 6 2/3 scoreless in duel with Reds' Cingrani
CINCINNATI -- Rare have been 1-0 games at Great American Ball Park, a hitters' haven since it opened in 2004. Over the first decade, only 11 such affairs were registered at the ballpark.
The Cardinals pushed the number to an even dozen in Monday's season opener, only to watch the Reds return the favor. In a game that started Wednesday and ended Thursday after rain delayed the first pitch by two hours and 40 minutes, the Reds snapped a 17-inning scoreless streak with a hit that also sparked a walk-off celebration.
The Reds' first run of the season came on a bases-loaded, ninth-inning single by Chris Heisey and was the only one they'd need. Cincinnati's 1-0 victory in front of what remained of a sellout crowd of 36,189 fans left the Cardinals unable to capitalize on a strong season debut by Michael Wacha.
"It's two nights in a row where starting pitching on both sides was outstanding, and not a lot of offense," said Matt Carpenter, who had a potential RBI hit snared by shortstop Zack Cozart to close the eighth. "We have to find ways to win these games."
The Cardinals rode Yadier Molina's solo homer to a win in the season opener, but have otherwise lacked timely hits. The Cardinals went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position on Wednesday, and remain hitless in their first 10 such chances this season.
It was an especially forgettable evening for Matt Adams, who, after being picked off in the fifth, struck out to end the seventh and ninth innings with two runners aboard.
"We had a couple chances, but had a tough time stacking any offense on top of anything we got going," manager Mike Matheny said. "You just need the right one at the right time. They put it together when they had to."
Through 18 innings this week, the Cardinals have tallied eight hits and not advanced a runner to third, with the exception of Molina. Matheny dismissed the possibility that a lack of recent game play could have led to some issues with hitters' timing, though others found the suggestion plausible.
Because of a rained-out exhibition game last week and several scheduled off-days in Cincinnati, the Cardinals have played just twice since last Thursday.
"The beginning of the season is kind of like the beginning of Spring Training -- pitchers are usually a little ahead of the hitters," Carpenter said. "Nonetheless, the games still count, and we want to win these. We have to find a way to put some runs across the board."
The Reds hadn't done any better, but finally did break through against Carlos Martinez in the ninth. Out for a second inning of work, Martinez allowed consecutive singles to Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier. Both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt.
An intentional walk brought up pinch-hitter Heisey, who promptly laced a single in left-center past a drawn-in infield.
"There's nothing like sitting around for about 10 hours," Heisey said, "and then getting one at-bat and doing something good."
"We get stuck in a spot where we have to pull a rabbit out of a hat there," Matheny added. "Carlos has the type of stuff to get that done. It just didn't happen tonight."
Though both starters had to first entertain a lengthy rain delay -- Wacha said he passed the time mainly by watching other games -- both were impressive in their debuts.
The Reds still haven't scored off a Cardinals starter this season. Adam Wainwright shut them out over seven innings on Monday, and Wacha followed that up with 6 2/3 scoreless innings. Wacha needed to be near perfect to hold serve against Reds lefty Tony Cingrani, who only twice let a runner move as far as second in his seven-inning start.
"You notice when he's putting up zeros, though, that you have to be sharper out there on the mound and be that much more stingy," Wacha said. "I had to go out and try to match zeros with him because he was throwing the ball really well."
Wacha has now pitched 16 2/3 scoreless innings with 16 strikeouts (after tallying seven on Thursday) against the Reds during his young Major League career. He'll draw Cincinnati in his next start, too, in Monday's home opener at Busch Stadium.
He expects to better when he takes the mound next.
"I got away with a lot of mistake pitches today," Wacha said. "Fastball command wasn't really how I wanted it to be."
The results, though, were, even if Cingrani's own strong start kept Wacha from notching his first win. The Cardinals' 2013 struggles against lefties havr been well-documented and spilled over for at least one night in this new season.
Cingrani carved up the Cardinals' lineup, striking out nine with a heavy reliance on his fastball and the timely inclusion of a slider. Carpenter described Cingrani as "as good as I've ever seen him," and the lefty left little opportunity for hitters to get comfortable as he fooled them with elevated fastballs and effectively wild command.
Cardinals hitters reached just twice through the first six innings.
"I was a little jacked up," Cingrani said. "It's the Cardinals and you want to win. They were coming out swinging and weren't putting too many good swings on it. [That] helped me out a little bit."
The Cardinals had their best opportunity to score once Cingrani's night was over. In the eighth, Kolten Wong drilled a one-out double to center field, and Carpenter believed he had an RBI hit on a two-strike pitch from Manny Parra. Instead, Cozart snagged it with a dive in shallow center.
"You have a feel for when you're hitting a ball and where you think it's going to drop based on where guys are, and I had a pretty good feeling that that one was going to land in there for a hit," Carpenter said. "But Cozart made a good play."