An overcast evening chock full of cumulus clouds added gloom to a lifeless St. Louis offense, as the Cincinnati Reds squared the season's initial series.
The good news? It didn't last long. A brilliant Sonny Gray and two relievers stymied the Cardinals for seven innings on just four hits, as the Reds (1-1) only needed 2:21 and a homer from Josh VanMeter to seal the deal. The Cards fell to 1-1 on the early season.
It wasn't that Cards starter Dakota Hudson was bad. Coaxing eight ground balls over six innings, Hudson kept the ball in play and his infielders awake. And he added four strikeouts to boot, three of them of the called variety. He only gave up five hits overall.
But oh, those walks., Hudson twice found himself with two men on base as a result of a hit and base-on-balls combo. In the first and third innings, his sinker came to the rescue on double plays, the latter a nifty one-bounce snare by Kolten Wong up the middle with a backhand toss to Paul DeJong.
In the third odd-numbered inning - also known as the fifth -- he wasn't quite so fortunate. Freddy Galvis led off with a walk and Hudson threw a sink pitch that, unlike most of his others, didn't.
"I don't know what happened there," Hudson said. "Maybe my grip was off. I'm really not sure. But I knew (VanMeter) had a tough time the first time through with the sinker, and I was confident. It just stayed up on the way in and the way out."
The Reds saw the full potential of leadoff man Shogo Akiyama, who, like Matt Carpenter the day before, was on base three times. Akiyama, a five-time All-Star in Japan's major leagues, also stole a base.
Carpenter did not have a good day, failing to get on base in four tries. Gray kept him off balance with two called strikeouts and a weak grounder and fly ball.
"That was textbook Sonny Gray today," said Carpenter. "Everything was sharp, especially the four-seamer (fastball). Every time I looked for a pitch somewhere, it was somewhere else. Just wicked."
He wasn't alone in his frustration, as Gray only let three Cards on base. Wong had two opposite-field singles and a walk. DeJong and Tyler O'Neill contributed a hit apiece. Only once was a Redbird on second base.
"It's quite something to be able to start the season with Castillo and have a pitcher like Sonny Gray second," said Reds manager David Bell. That's the kind of one-two that will win us a bunch of games over a long season."
Bell was initially inclined to remove Gray from this early-season jaunt after six frames, but he had only thrown 68 pitches. He capped his performance with 12 more in the seventh, and surrendered to reliever Michael Lorenzen, who, after an easy eight-pitch eighth, finished up in the ninth.
Tyler Webb and Giovanny Gallegos took the final two innings for St. Louis.
The rubber match on Sunday matches Carlos Martinez against Anthony DeSclafani, who was moved up due to Trevor Bauer having some minor soreness in his calf.