ST. LOUIS -- It's been 31 years since the Reds earned a four-game series sweep in St. Louis. They can thank Jesse Winker for making it possible to get one Sunday.
Winker hit three home runs in a game and became the first Cincinnati player to do that twice in one season. His third one, a one-out solo drive that had just enough to clear the right-field fence against Alex Reyes, was good for the game-winner in an 8-7 nail-biter of a victory at Busch Stadium.
"I just tried to hit it hard and it got up and got out. Once I saw it get over the fence, I was really, really excited. I was really pumped," Winker said.
It was Cincinnati's first sweep of the Cardinals at their home ballpark since May 4-7, 1990, at the previous version of Busch Stadium.
"That was a huge series win right there," Winker said. "That was a lot of fun to be able to win that fourth game right there. It was a total team effort all series. It was a hard-fought one today and I’m glad we came out with the win.”
Lucas Sims survived putting runners on second and third base with no outs to get his sixth save. The 28-29 Reds have won six of their last seven games and moved to within four games out of first place and 1 1/2 games behind the third-place Cardinals in the National League Central.
Winker hit a two-run home run in the first inning and a three-run homer in the second inning -- both against Cardinals starter John Gant -- to give the Reds an early 5-0 lead. Three hits to open the top of the third inning, including a two-run double by Eugenio Suárez, made it a 7-0 game.
"Man, he’s special. He is something special," Reds starting pitcher Wade Miley said of Winker. "He’s fun to watch. The man gets his 'A' swing off a lot and does a lot of damage. He talks a lot after he hits homers; comes in the dugout, and he may talk more than I do in the dugout. Man, he sure is fun to be around."
Miley had delivered five scoreless innings with four hits, two walks and eight strikeouts when he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth. The lefty threw 92 pitches -- but 49 of them came over his final two innings.
Manager David Bell turned the game over to his suspect bullpen and got disastrous results. Michael Feliz faced five batters and couldn't record an out with four hits and a walk allowed while being charged with five runs. Brad Brach then faced three batters without notching an out.
"I may have had one more in me," Miley said. "I lobbied for it a little bit, but at that point in the game, David was like, 'I’m not going to push you today' and I can respect that decision. At the end of the day, we won a baseball game."
Tejay Antone picked up a double play, but Nolan Arenado's two-run single into left field made it a 7-7 game.
“You know that’s part of the game," Winker said. "You’re going to come back in games, it’s all part of it. We had three innings to go and we just kind of started chipping away. We were getting guys on, we were getting outs, we were making plays and we take the lead and Lucas comes in and slams the door and then -- game."
After Heath Hembree provided a much-needed perfect bottom of the eighth inning with two strikeouts to keep it tied, Winker put Cincinnati ahead with his career-high 17th home run of the season -- which ties him for the National League lead.
"I just thought to myself, ‘All right, ballgame.’ You know, simple as that. I’ve got one run, that’s all I need," Sims said of seeing Winker stake him to a save chance. "You just watch him play and he’s a kid. He’s a kid when he plays, but he’s such a professional -- the four, five, six hours before a game. Getting his mind prepared. Getting his body prepared. Going through a process. I’ve known Jesse since back in high school. We played in some events together, and I played against him a lot in the Minors between Double-A and Triple-A a little bit.
"Seeing what he’s developed into, and just the kind of overall complete ballplayer that he’s turned into, there was never a doubt that he was going to become a special ballplayer. I’m really thankful he’s on our side."
Winker's only other three-homer game came on May 21, when he was 4-for-4 against the Brewers in a 9-4 win.
Coincidentally, the Reds’ single-game record of four home runs by Scooter Gennett came against the Cardinals on June 6, 2017, at Great American Ball Park. It was also the only other time in his career that Gant gave up multiple homers to a player in a game.
"I'm just trying to be a tough at-bat," Winker said. "Today was one of those moments where they got up and got out, but I was really just trying to put the barrel on the ball and really just hit it hard."