Pitching with very little room for error, Wainwright made too many uncharacteristic mistakes with his curveball. His offense didn't do enough to make up for it, and Wainwright took the loss as the Cardinals fell to the Reds, 4-3, at Great American Ball Park.
The fourth annual Civil Rights Game was played in front of a full house of 41,326. Wainwright wasn't great, but he was good enough that some nights, his offense would have gotten him off the hook.
"We didn't give him much offensive support," manager Tony La Russa said. "It's tough to pitch without making mistakes. Just about impossible. You're going to make some mistakes. Sometimes they miss them. Sometimes the offense gives you enough where you can afford it."
The Cardinals almost tied the game in the ninth, but Skip Schumaker was thrown out at home when he tried to score on Joe Mather's two-out double.
Wainwright looked good early, allowing a run on two ground-ball singles in the second, and took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the fourth. But he started to look shaky in the fourth, and he permitted four extra-base hits over his final three innings. He allowed a solo homer to Jonny Gomes, the first long ball he's given up since his first start of the year, but the big blow was a two-run triple by Drew Stubbs in the sixth after an intentional walk to Gomes.
Every run scored with two outs, and every run scored on a curveball or a slider from Wainwright. The right-hander is known for a wide assortment of effective pitches, but his signature pitch is his curveball. When he makes mistakes with it, it's going to be a difficult night.
"I would say that was my most inconsistent pitch tonight," he said. "Very unusual. I kept going to it. I'm able to make an adjustment most of the time. At times it was very, very good."
Wainwright issued three walks, a season-high, though of course the one was intentional, and the four runs were also the most against him this year. The last time Wainwright was reached for more than three runs was Sept. 4, 2009, when he gave up six against the Pirates.
Meanwhile, Reds rookie Mike Leake worked around some trouble to toss six strong innings. He gave up a sacrifice fly to Schumaker and a solo homer to Colby Rasmus, but he dodged trouble with two men on in both the third and fifth innings.
"He's a crafty pitcher," Schumaker said. "He kept the ball down, he used all his pitches, and he was very effective because he changed speeds. When he had to, he made pitches to get out of the inning. There's a reason why he skipped the Minor Leagues. He was around the plate, he threw strikes with all his pitches and he was effective."
The two runs against Leake were all the Cardinals managed until the ninth, when David Freese started a rally with a leadoff single. After a wild pitch and a groundout moved Freese to third, Schumaker singled him home. Mather doubled into the left-field corner. The ball rolled to a stop at the wall, but left fielder Chris Heisey made a strong throw, shortstop Orlando Cabrera relayed it home, and catcher Ramon Hernandez tagged Schumaker out on a close play.
"I'd say most of the time, the third-base coach, you think you've got a shot, you push it," La Russa said. "If the guy throws it off line or skips it off his body, you get the run. I have no problem with trying to be aggressive there with two outs."
Said Cordero of the near-miss: "I don't call that a save. All that matters is we got the 'W.' When playing the Cardinals, the game is not over until it's over. They've got a great team. I don't want it like that, but [I'll take them] anyway they come. In the end, we got to go home happy."
The Cardinals have lost eight of 11, while Cincinnati pulled back within one-half game of first-place St. Louis in the National League Central.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.