Cards slip in playoff chase with loss to Reds

Cards slip in playoff chase with loss to Reds

ST. LOUIS -- An offense that tallied runs in six different innings one night earlier couldn't dent a single frame on Wednesday, and it cost the Cardinals critical ground in a pair of postseason races.

The Reds, who will play 11 of their final 17 games against the National League Central's three contending teams, remained a nuisance to the Cardinals, this time evening the three-game series with a 6-0 victory at Busch Stadium. Eugenio Suarez's fifth-inning grand slam served as the stinging blow.

The loss, just the third for the Cardinals this month, dropped St. Louis a half-game behind the Brewers in both the NL Central and Wild Card races. The Cubs hold a three-game division lead over the Cardinals, who will travel to Wrigley Field this weekend. St. Louis remained 3 1/2 games back of the Rockies, who dropped an 8-2 decision to the D-backs, for the second Wild Card spot.

"You're talking a game of inches, and if something goes just a little bit different early in that game or something falls for us, it's that close to being a different game," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "There's nothing to bounce back from except to realize that we have to get back after it tomorrow."

Mahle's first career victory

Making his fourth Major League start, Reds rookie starter Tyler Mahle picked up his first win by tiptoeing around trouble early and finishing five scoreless innings. The Cardinals, who scored 13 runs in the series opener, went hitless in six at-bats with a runner in scoring position against the right-hander.

"Some of the young starters [are] really making reliable starts for us," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Mahle was five innings, but I'll tell you those were five innings we had to have if we have a chance to win that game."

Jack Flaherty, making his third career start, couldn't avoid similar damage. The Cards rookie served up a home run to Jesse Winker on his second pitch of the game and exited with one out in the fifth after fumbling a double-play opportunity and plunking Mahle.

Flaherty's eventful 5th inning

"The hit by pitch and not being able to turn a double play on a really routine play that I feel like I should make every time," Flaherty said, "for me not to make that and have the ball slip away is frustrating."

Lefty reliever Ryan Sherriff entered behind Flaherty and yielded two hits, including Suarez's grand slam.

Three relievers combined to preserve the shutout as the Reds improved to 9-6 in the season series against the Cardinals, who have been shut out four times at home, including three games by the Reds.

"To come back in this game [after a loss] with a rookie starting pitcher, who gets his first win with five scoreless, great shutdown relief from the bullpen," Price said. "Really solid defensive game, the big hits there in the fifth inning, that took a 1-0 game to a 6-0, was phenomenal."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Suarez slam: Though Suarez entered the game having had more success against lefties than righties this season, Matheny opted to stick with Sherriff to face the Reds' cleanup hitter in the fifth. The move quickly backfired. Suarez teed off on a 1-1 slider for his second career grand slam, which pushed the Reds' lead to six. Seven of Suarez's 25 homers this season have come in his last 33 games. More >

Suarez's grand slam

"[I was] just looking for something in my strike zone," Suarez said. "I just always want to put my best swing on it, and that was the perfect pitch he threw me right then and there."

Left stranded: The Cardinals had a plethora of early scoring chances against Mahle, who allowed seven of the first 14 batters he faced to reach. That included loading the bases in the second for two-hole hitter Tommy Pham, whose 63 RBIs rank third-most on the team. Pham worked the count full before rolling over on two-seam fastball for an inning-ending groundout. The Cardinals would not advance a runner to third the rest of the night.

"We were getting into situations where we were putting the pressure on and we needed the big hit," Matheny said. "We needed someone to come up with something big to get some momentum going forward. They've made it look easy lately, but it's hard coming through in those situations. The kid made good pitches when he needed to."

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With their two home runs on Wednesday, the Reds reached 200 on the season for the seventh time in franchise history and the first since 2007. Six players have hit at least 20.

Winker's leadoff homer

UPON FURTHER REVIEW
All five of the Reds' fifth-inning runs came after they extended the inning with a successful challenge of what had been an inning-ending play. Initially ruled out on a force attempt at second base, the call was overturned and Mahle was awarded the base after a one-minute, 18-second review concluded that he slid in safely ahead of the throw from shortstop Paul DeJong.

Mahle safe after review

"DeJong makes a great play up the middle, great feed, and of all people on the field, Tyler Mahle, the pitcher, beats the throw to second base," Price said. "It was a successful challenge, which leads to [Joey Votto's RBI single] to 2-0 and Suarez to the grand slam."

WHAT'S NEXT
Reds: Rookie left-hander Amir Garrett will make his second career start against the Cardinals at 1:45 p.m. ET on Thursday as the Reds conclude an eight-game road trip in the series finale at Busch Stadium. Garrett logged six innings, allowing just two hits, in a 2-0 win in his Major League debut on April 7.

Cardinals: The Cards will close out their penultimate homestand of the season on Thursday at 12:45 p.m. CT against the Reds. Luke Weaver, the first Cardinals rookie in 24 years to win five consecutive starts, will be making his first career start against Cincinnati.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Alaina Gertzenberg is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Louis and covered the Reds on Wednesday.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.