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Short-handed Cards fall short in Cincy

Cards fall short in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- His teammates leave Cincinnati with an unpleasant taste in their mouths, but for Brian Falkenborg, the experience of pitching at Great American Ball Park was at least bittersweet.

Falkenborg, called up from Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday morning, took the loss on Tuesday afternoon. Javier Valentin smacked a game-ending RBI single, as the Reds came from behind to beat the Cardinals, 3-2. Cincinnati completed a two-game sweep of St. Louis and lengthened its lead to two games in the National League Central division.

Still, for Falkenborg, taking the loss in the Major Leagues -- and knowing tomorrow will come soon -- is better than racking up saves in the Minors.

"It's always good to be in the big leagues," he said. "This is what it's all about. This is why you play. I get excited every time, no matter how many times. ... It's a better place. The food tastes better. Obviously, the travel is better."

Austin Kearns led off the ninth with a single that kicked off the glove of Falkenborg (0-1). The right-hander then hit Brandon Phillips with a pitch when Phillips was trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Jason LaRue successfully sacrificed the runners over on an 0-2 count, bringing up Valentin. The catcher, batting for reliever and winning pitcher Todd Coffey (2-0), lined a single just over the glove of second baseman Aaron Miles to end the game.

The plan had been to avoid giving Valentin anything to hit. Valentin passed on the first two offerings before Falkenborg left a split-finger fastball up.

"We were supposed to be pitching around him -- don't give him anything to hit," Falkenborg said. "The ball that I threw him was actually supposed to be in the dirt and it just wasn't. It was a split. That happens every once in a while. He took a 2-0 offspeed pitch and jumped on it. Tip your cap to him."

The inning could have turned several times before Valentin even batted. Kearns' leadoff single might have been an out if Falkenborg hadn't gotten a glove on it. Phillips was trying to bunt when Falkenborg hit him with a fastball. And on LaRue's bunt, catcher Yadier Molina called for Falkenborg to take the lead out at third rather than the out at first base.

"I really only wish I had two pitches back," Falkenborg said. "One was probably the worst fastball I've ever thrown, to Phillips, the one that hit him. And the other one was the game-winning one when we were trying to pitch around Valentin. I leave a ball that's supposed to be in the dirt over the plate. Besides that, I felt I made some pitches."

St. Louis had taken an early lead against left-hander Dave Williams, thanks to three first-inning singles, but the chance was there for more. Juan Encarnacion crushed a ball to center field that landed harmlessly in Ryan Freel's glove. Everything the Cardinals hit in the first was hit hard.

Encarnacion added a solo homer in the third to make it 2-0, but the Cards could add no more against Williams and the Reds' bullpen. The Redbirds were playing without Albert Pujols, who had the day off due to back stiffness.

"[Williams] dodged a bullet in the first inning," said manager Tony La Russa. "That helped him. But he just pitched better."

Cardinals starter Sidney Ponson breezed through five innings before a difficult sixth cost him the victory. Ponson allowed two runs in a two-batter span, as Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion hit back-to-back solo homers. The right-hander permitted six hits and two walks, while striking out two.

"The sixth inning, they had way too good contact," Ponson said. "Instead of contact for groundballs, it was contact for long flyballs. You don't get those back."

Braden Looper, Randy Flores and Falkenborg kept the Reds off the scoreboard in the seventh and eighth. St. Louis had one last chance to take the lead in the ninth, when John Rodriguez and David Eckstein scratched out consecutive two-out singles against Coffey.

That brought up John Gall, but he took his third strikeout of the game to end the threat.

"I had a feeling he was going to start with a slider, try to get a strike away," Gall said. "It dove away, and I took a decent pass at it. And then, yeah, from there, I could have tightened it down a little bit more. He was looking for me to chase, which I did."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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