CINCINNATI -- After nine innings of playing with fire, the Cardinals finally got burned.
Joey Votto's two-out RBI single against Jason Motte in the 10th inning capped off an agonizing Cards defeat, 6-5, to the rival Reds at Great American Ball Park on Friday night. St. Louis led by scores of 4-0 and 5-2, but Cincinnati rallied against Kyle Lohse and the Redbirds' bullpen, scoring in four of the last five innings.
The Reds hit the ball hard all night, and in the late innings they got something to show for it -- with an assist from seven walks issued by Cardinals pitchers.
Ramon Hernandez led off the 10th with a double to right-center. Chris Heisey reached on a fielder's choice, going all the way to second as Hernandez was caught in a rundown, before Drew Stubbs flied out. Edgar Renteria drew a tough walk, bringing up the reigning National League Most Valuable Player to face Motte. Votto grinded out a tough six-pitch at-bat before poking the game-winner to right field.
"I made some good pitches," Motte said. "I thought the 3-2 [to Renteria] was ... pitching, you think it's closer than it is, but I thought it was a strike. It wasn't. So I've just got to go out there and battle against Votto. I made some good pitches, made one bad one. The last one didn't get where I wanted it, and he's a good hitter and that's what happens."
Votto knew exactly what Motte was trying to do, and he was able to react when the pitcher missed his spot.
"The previous two pitches were higher, and I fouled them both back," Votto said. "So I had it in the back of my mind and I was reacting to them. If he had gone a little higher, maybe I would have got on top and put the ball in play or would've fouled it off again hopefully."
Renteria started the rally in the ninth that sent the game into extra innings, also with a walk. He drew a leadoff free pass against de facto closer Eduardo Sanchez and took second on a wild pitch. Votto's grounder to the right side advanced Renteria to third, and Brandon Phillips deposited a single into shallow center to tie the game. Sanchez escaped that jam, but the Cards couldn't score against Francisco Cordero in the top of the 10th.
Sanchez has issued at least one walk in seven straight appearances. His velocity was also down on Friday, though Sanchez said he felt as strong as ever. Typically in the 93-95-mph range, Sanchez pitched at 91-92 against the Reds. The bigger issue, though, was location.
"Sometimes they're waiting me out because I'm not hitting my spots," Sanchez said through teammate Miguel Batista, who translated for him. "So the situations I'm getting in, sometimes they just let me pitch, and I end up walking a guy. I have missed with some pitches, but most of it I've been around where I want to be in the zone."
The comeback actually started all the way back in the sixth, as the Reds finally broke through after five frustrating innings against Lohse. Jay Bruce's infield single and Scott Rolen's double each brought home a run, getting the Reds back into the game.
In the seventh, things really got scary for the visitors. Neither Batista nor Trever Miller recorded an out to open the inning as a three-run cushion was reduced to one. Fernando Salas got three huge outs, finishing the seventh by retiring Rolen and Miguel Cairo with the bases loaded, and put up a zero in the eighth as well.
Sanchez couldn't bring it home, however. He suffered his first blown save in five chances at the Major League level.
"He's got the stuff," acting manager Joe Pettini said. "And he just, he still has to get his feet wet a little more and gain some more confidence. He's a really good pitcher. And he's trying to learn in the toughest spot there is in a game -- in the ninth inning. Hopefully, the more experience he gets, the better off he gets."
The Cardinals had the lead thanks to a persistent offense that cracked Bronson Arroyo, even after Arroyo looked quite strong in the early going. RBI doubles by Matt Holliday and Daniel Descalso highlighted a three-run fourth, and Descalso added an RBI single in the sixth to stretch the lead.
Descalso carries a relatively meager .233 batting average for the season, but his hits have been well-timed. He's sixth on the team with 14 RBIs in limited duty.
After the Reds broke through for two runs against Lohse in the sixth, St. Louis made it 5-2 on Holliday's RBI single. But the Cards missed a chance to break the game open when Yadier Molina grounded into a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded to end the inning.
"Having the bases loaded with Yadi up, and then get the comebacker for a double play, that kind of hurt," Pettini said. "Right there, if you get a sac fly or a base hit, that kind of opens it up a little bit."
The Cardinals fell to 22-17 on the year as Cincinnati pulled within one-half game in the NL Central. The two clubs have split their four head-to-head games so far in 2011.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.