CINCINNATI — At a ballpark where innings are known to go super sideways as homers go up, up, and away, to walls both near and far, the Cardinals turned for a second consecutive day to their closer.
They gave him a larger lead to hold.
Ryan Helsley leaned into a bases-loaded abyss — but did not blink.
After walking two batters and bringing the winning run to the plate, Helsley got a groundout from No. 3 hitter Jonathan India to end the game and secure an 8-5 victory Tuesday against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. The Cardinals won for the 12th time in 16 games and inched ever closer to .500, but not before Cincinnati, who tagged Helsley with an extra-innings loss Monday night, teased doing it again in regulation. All three of the Reds’ baserunners came with two outs as Helsley’s pitch count bloated and walks lit the fuse on a another Great American burst.
It fizzled on India’s grounder.
The Cardinals scored at least one run in the first four innings. They built a lead out of Paul Goldschmidt’s two homers by the end of the third inning and the first hits of Tommy Edman’s three-hit night. The seven runs in the first four innings built a tailwind that Adam Wainwright took into the sixth inning. With the bullpen’s help to hold the lead, Wainwright improved to 2-0 this season and is three wins shy of the 200th in his career.
Wainwright tries to take air out of Reds
Not that he needed a reminder after more than 20 games at Great American Ball Park and watching plenty of other innings from the visitors’ dugout. But Wainwright got one Monday night when a fly out at 67% of the big league ballparks in all the land inched over the left-field wall for a home run that bent teammate Jordan Montgomery’s line.
“That happens here,” manager Oliver Marmol said, drolly.
The dimensions haven’t changed at GABP.
Neither have the lessons.
Not every fly ball can be brought back by a leaping Jim Edmonds, so best to keep the ball out of the air and the score under control.
That was the challenge for Wainwright, c. 2023.
The veteran, a gifted groundball-getter and efficiency expert throughout his career, has seen a rise in his fly-ball rate this season. Entering Tuesday’s start (his third of the season), Wainwright had a 33.9% groundball rate, down from 43.2% last season and 47.6% percent in his career. His fly ball rate of 39% would be the highest ever for a season as a starter. Toss in the fact that he went 0-2 in Cincinnati in 2022 and has a career ERA of 5.73 at Great American’s small park, and Wainwright had to challenge. He tried to beat it into the ground.
Two balls in the air led to a run in the first inning, and then Wainwright got seven of the next 12 Reds he faced to groundout. That minimized the damage when the top of the order doubled and rookie Matt McLain hit his first big league homer. McLain’s two-run shot in the third cut the Cardinals’ lead to 4-3. When the Cardinals widened it to four runs with a three-run fourth inning, Wainwright pitched a key perfect frame.
Two of the outs came on the ground.
The Reds laced him for five extra-base hits, but because he walked only one and kept other hits from stockpiling the rallies were brief and scattered. Wainwright allowed five runs on eight hits through 5 2/3 innings. The two batters he left behind for reliever Chris Stratton in the sixth inning did not budge.
Arenado, Marmol ejected over high strikes
The at-bat did not end on a strikeout or a particularly irritating strike call, but how it got to the point that Nolan Arenado bounced into a double play irked the third baseman.
In the fourth inning, Arenado had two pitches called strikes on him — one at the lower edge of the strike and another that appeared just above the upper edge. Teammate Willson Contreras had two similar high strikes called on him in the second inning. Arenado was bothered by the high-strike call, and he appeared to exchange commentary with home-plate umpire Will Little.
After hitting into the inning-ending double play, Arenado walked through the infield toward the Cardinals’ dugout and shook his head as Little held out his hands.
Whatever thought-provoking comment was made got Arenado ejected.
He pivoted over to the ump and appeared to argue the ejection before his manager interceded, squeezing between the player and umpire. Marmol’s argument with Little continued up the first-base line, the farther side of the field for the Cardinals’ dugout. Little tossed him, too, as Marmol pantomimed the level of the high strike, drawing a line with his hand at neck level.
For Marmol, the ejection was the sixth of his career and third already this season. Arenado was ejected for the eighth time in his career and leftthe Cardinals with 5 1/2 more innings to play without their cleanup hitter.
Here’s a switch: Edman turns right
The Cardinals scored in each of the first four innings, and twice Edman was involved from an unusual position he’s been experimenting with more and more.
The Cardinals’ play-anywhere, Gold Glove-winning utility infielder and recent outfielder, has been test-driving selective switch-hitting, choosing which side of the plate to bat from based on the style of pitcher, not handedness. Against Reds starter Graham Ashcraft, a right-hander, Edman hit from the right side, not the usual left of a switch-hitter.
He tagged two pitches for run-scoring swats.
In the second inning, Edman drilled a pitch to straight-away center field that left his bat at 104-mph. Though the ball was caught, it was so deep into center field that there was no throw as teammate Paul DeJong scored from third on the sacrifice fly. Two innings letter, Edman faced Ashcraft again and hit from the right side. He tripled to score two teammates and widen the Cardinals’ lead to 7-3.
Edman makes the decision on what side to hit based on the pitch profile and movement of the pitches. Ashcraft throwing a cutter 60% of the time and a slider 36% of the time meant going with his swing path from the right side. When Cincinnati turned to reliever Silvino Bracho, who throws change-ups 38% of the time, Edman went to the left side to face the right-hander. In his first 10 at-bats this season as a right-handed hitter against right-handed pitching, he has three hits, two of them for extra-bases, and the sacrifice fly was his first right-on-right RBI.
In the ninth, Edman again hit right-handed against a right-handed pitcher and he doubled down the third-base line.
Goldy goes yard, twice
The two other early-game jams for runs that seized an early lead for the Cardinals were both solo shows.
In the first inning with one out, Goldschmidt hit his eighth homer of the season. He duplicated the feat in the third inning. The second batter up in the inning after an out, Goldschmidt launched another homer. The only difference was the direction. Goldschmidt’s ninth homer of the season was an opposite-field shot.
Goldschmidt has 26 career multi-homer games.
Three have come this season.