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Cueto nearly flawless, but Reds can't back him up

Club shut out on Opening Day for first time since '53, misses chances

CINCINNATI -- It would be too simple to say the difference between new Reds manager Bryan Price notching career loss No. 1 before his first victory vs. the Cardinals was because of a Yadier Molina home run.

Sure, Molina's seventh-inning long ball off of Johnny Cueto was the lone run in a 1-0 Reds defeat to St. Louis on Opening Day before a sold-out crowd of 43,134 fans at Great American Ball Park. There was still ample opportunity to have given Price a different outcome in his debut.

"It could have gone either way, to be honest with you. Both teams pitched beautifully," Reds catcher Brayan Pena said. "One solo shot. If I'm behind home plate ... and every time you tell me we're only going to allow one run on a solo shot, I'll take that every day, especially with the lineup that we have. We have a tremendous lineup. We're not getting beat by one run that often."

It was the first time since 1953 vs. the Milwaukee Braves that the Reds were shut out on Opening Day. That's not exactly how Price envisioned the day would turn out.

"I was thinking there was a win at the end of it, for sure," Price said.

Other things didn't go as planned. In his first Opening Day in the big leagues, leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.

"I didn't feel like I did what I wanted to do," Hamilton said. "But it's OK. There's another day tomorrow. It's learning for me."

Hamilton and Price weren't alone in the unfulfilled department. Cincinnati went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine on base.

Even the best laid plans defensively weren't successful. Twice when Price ordered defensive shifts against lefty slugger Matt Adams, they were beaten by hits to the left side. Adams lined a single to left field in the second inning and a very slow roller past the unguarded third base for an unlikely double in the fifth.

Until Molina's homer, Adams' knocks were the only two hits St. Louis had mustered vs. Cueto.

"Johnny was terrific," Price said. "We're pretty accustomed to seeing that type of pitching from Johnny. Not only was he healthy, but he just seemed to be so free and easy letting it go. That was a really nice thing to see. He attacked their lineup and made good pitches."

With one out in the top of the seventh inning, Molina attacked a first pitch and deposited into the left-field seats.

"It was a cutter. I wanted to throw it for a strike," Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera. "He was really waiting for that pitch. He was really aggressive, and you know what happened."

It was Molina's first Opening Day homer since he hit a grand slam against the Reds in 2010, which the Cardinals also won.

"I think Matt Holliday said it best when we were coming in, shaking hands, that 'Yadi wins.' It was kind of his game today, and I was lucky to be a part of it," said Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who earned his 100th career victory.

Cueto finished with the lone run allowed over seven innings, with three hits, one walk and eight strikeouts. In his three Opening Day starts, he has allowed two earned runs over 21 innings pitched.

It was encouraging, especially since Cueto missed time in Spring Training with irritation in his right scapula and was limited to 11 starts last season with a right lat strain. But he was almost knocked out of the game after one batter when Matt Carpenter began the game by hitting a comebacker off of Cueto's left wrist. After a look-see by the trainer, Cueto was able to continue.

"It was a really hard line drive. I said, 'Wow, what's going on?'" Cueto said. "Thank God it was nothing bad, nothing to worry about."

Wainwright, last season's National League Cy Young Award runner-up, kept much of the order in check as well, as he pitched seven innings with three hits and four walks allowed while striking out nine. It took him 34 2/3 innings to notch his first walk in 2013.

"You look at him and Cueto, that's what those guys are supposed to do," Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick said.

Cincinnati had a couple of chances to score on Wainwright, including in the sixth inning, after Jay Bruce walked with one out. Bruce moved to second base on a two-out wild pitch to Todd Frazier. After a Frazier walk, Zack Cozart tapped a squib in front of the plate and was easily thrown out at first base by Molina.

There were chances against the Cardinals' bullpen, too, which needed three pitchers in the eighth to overcome what essentially was a five-out inning.

Brandon Phillips drew a leadoff walk from Pat Neshek to lead off the inning that was ripe with opportunity. Against lefty Kevin Siegrist, Joey Votto hit a roller through second baseman Kolten Wong's glove and reached on the error that put runners on the corners with no outs. Bruce then grounded to first base, and Phillips was thrown out in a fielder's-choice play when he was running on contact toward the plate.

"That situation, if we hit a ball and they turn two, we still score the run," Price said. "I thought he did a great job of trying to stay in the rundown and give us a chance to advance. They did a really good job. Adams was able to round up Brandon at third, drive him back to the bag. It made it a lot harder for Joey to go from first to third."

Carlos Martinez entered to face Ludwick and got what should have been an inning-ending double-play ball to second base. Ludwick reached when Adams dropped the throw to first base, giving the Reds extended life. But the rally ended when Frazier looked at a called third strike. Trevor Rosenthal shut the door with a perfect ninth.

"Very frustrating," Bruce said. "They gave us some chances. We didn't execute. We didn't take care of it today. But there are 161 games left."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
Read More: Cincinnati Reds, Ryan Ludwick, Johnny Cueto, Zack Cozart, Billy Hamilton, Brayan Pena, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Todd Frazier, Joey Votto