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CIN@STL: Phillips sends a solo shot to left

ST. LOUIS -- Wacky events and some interesting gamesmanship at the start of Friday's game seemed headed to having the Reds pitching staff in dire straits.

It proved quite the contrary as the bullpen rose to the challenge and came up big. But by the end of a long, wet night at the yard and a 4-2 Reds loss to the Cardinals, there was only regret about how a game slipped away.

The Reds were 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners. They had big chances to tie the game in the seventh and eighth innings before mistakes cost them.

"I think that was probably the worst loss we had all year right there," said Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who hit a solo home run in the fifth inning. "We just beat ourselves. The Cardinals are a great team and did their job. On our end, we just didn't come through. We have to get key hits in situations and be smarter. Today was another learning experience."

For the first time this season, and the only time since Aug. 14 of last season, the 10-10 Reds no longer occupy first place. The 11-9 Cardinals sit a top of the National League Central.

The Reds-Cardinals rivalry created its latest chapter with more bizarre intrigue. The game was started on time despite knowledge some severe weather was approaching. Not long before first pitch, the Cardinals switched starters and had reliever Miguel Batista start in place of Kyle McClellan. The Reds stayed with Edinson Volquez, who was already all warmed up in the bullpen.

Six pitches into the game, showers brought a two-hour, 10-minute rain delay. When play resumed, St. Louis went back to McClellan. Meanwhile, the Reds could not go with Volquez and summoned Matt Maloney.

"[Volquez] was down there underneath warming up every 15 minutes but the delay was too long," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Baker was clearly not pleased with the turn of events that left him without his starting pitcher.

"It's really a tough start," Baker said. "The information that we received was probably not the same information they received, or else we wouldn't have started [Volquez] in the first place. We were told there was going to be a window of opportunity there. That window lasted about three minutes.

"Our understanding -- we were going to have -- sometimes the weather man is wrong -- we were going to have 45 minutes to an hour before the rains came. The umpire said 'Dusty the rain is going to come eventually,' which we all knew. He said we would play through it the best we can. It just didn't last too long. If the umpires knew it was going to rain like that ... they wouldn't have started the game either. What information did they get?"

McClellan told reporters he was advised of the switch about an hour before the game.

"The forecasts were flying fast and furious," Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa said. "They were, 'here's where it's going to be the worst, here's where it might hit.' They're just guessing. You don't know what's going to happen. But right after we announced that we were starting on time, maybe at 7:05, somebody said it was raining at [interstate] 270 and they thought it would be here in 15 minutes. By then, it's pretty tough to back off. And sure enough, five minutes into the game it was raining."

Maloney needed 39 pitches to get through the first inning and started the game with back-to-back singles, which led to Albert Pujols' sacrifice fly. But he also escaped with the bases loaded. A two-out rally led to a Pujols RBI single in the second inning. In the third after Lance Berkman led off with a double, David Freese hit a single to right field. Jay Bruce bobbled the ball, an error that allowed Berkman to score.

Jordan Smith took over and did a nice job in giving the Reds three strong innings, allowing only Yadier Molina's RBI single with two out in the fifth. Nick Masset followed with two perfect innings in the sixth and seventh. Bill Bray was flawless in the eighth.

After Phillips' homer in the fifth put the Reds on the scoreboard against McClellan, they had ample chances to come back all the way. In the sixth with two runners in scoring position and one out, Bruce stayed at third base instead of scoring on Miguel Cairo's grounder deep to shortstop Ryan Theriot. The bases were loaded with one out in the seventh inning and only one run scored on Jonny Gomes' sacrifice fly.

In the eighth with runners at first and second and one out, Chris Heisey was picked off first base by Mitchell Boggs. With Heisey headed safely to second base, Cairo had no choice but to run and got thrown out.

"We made a couple of mistakes," Baker said. "A couple of big mistakes. A couple of young mistakes. I'm sure we'll never make those same mistakes again."

Now with their bullpen upside down, the Reds might have to call up a reliever to bolster the staff. As for their unused starting pitcher, Volquez, there's a chance he could resurface in this series. Baker was asked if Volquez might start Sunday night instead of Sam LeCure.

"Maybe. It's a very good question," Baker said.

And the intrigue continues.

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