After six games and a split on the West Coast and in the Rocky Mountains, the St. Louis Cardinals came home to St. Louis, Busch Stadium and the National League Central.
And it was good.
In what can best be called a normal and straightforward baseball game, the Cards downed the Cincinnati Reds 5-1 Monday night. A superb pitching effort, coupled with two clusters of runs, powered the home team to victory.
The game proved a return for Jack Flaherty to his typical dominance on the mound, after an unsatisfying stint at Dodger Stadium last Wednesday. His seven strong innings, along with John Gant's eighth and Ryan Helsley's ninth, shut down a powerful Reds lineup, though Helsley cut it close this time around as he recorded his fourth save.
Meanwhile, the Cards offense strung together two in the second and three in the third against Reds starter Sonny Gray, and that was all it took.
With Paul DeJong out due to a serious hamstring strain, and Paul Goldschmidt not close to returning, the Cards have mixed it up quite a bit with their lineups. While Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler have most commonly taken the top two spots, and Kolten Wong has typically batted seventh, the other five spots have seen an oft-changing permutation.
This time it was the outfield tandem of Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader, in the six and eight holes, that produced the majority of the Cards runs.
In the second, Carlson walked and stole second with one out. Wong grounded out to second base, advancing Carlson to third. Then Bader pounded a high fly ball to the top of the right-center field wall, driving in a run. He then scampered home on a Gray wild pitch.
The next inning, Carpenter singled, Tommy Edman walked with one out, and Brad Miller scratched out an infield hit, loading the bases. Carlson climbed on the first pitch, a misplaced Gray fastball, into the left-center gap, and cleared the bases.
Flaherty, staked to the 5-0 lead, showed no signs of letting the Reds back into the game. He retired 11 of his first 12 batters, only allowing a single to Joey Votto in the fourth.
His fifth inning could have imploded, but after a walk and a hit with one out, he gave up a sac fly to catcher Tucker Barnhart, scoring Freddy Galvis, and retired Mike Moustakas on an easy grounder to end the threat.
The next two innings saw Flaherty mow down four on strikeouts, with a hit in each frame that led to nothing. In the seventh, Wong and shortstop Brad Miller completed a spiffy double play, as Wong ranged behind second base and backhanded a toss to Miller who threw a perfect strike to Carpenter.
Gant was perfect in the eighth, while Helsley, despite a couple hits, coaxed three fly ball outs, including one towering blast by Jesse Winker to the center-field wall that Bader flagged down to end the game.
"I was a little bit nervous. No, maybe more than a little bit, on that last one," said Helsley. I didn't know if it was staying in the park. I knew (Bader) would catch it if it did. If it goes out, all of a sudden it's a one-run game. Glad I didn't make Mike (Shildt) have to make that call."
Next Up and Notes: Dakota Hudson returns to the mound tomorrow to face Trevor Bauer Tuesday evening. The 42,058 crowd Monday was the second highest of the year to date. Pitching coach Mike Maddux was not on hand due to a bout with the flu, but was reporting in that he felt much better by Monday evening.