CINCINNATI -- With the Reds and Cardinals scoreless in the bottom of the seventh Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park, Billy Hamilton got the order he was waiting for. One day after joining the Reds as a part of September callups, Hamilton was told to take over as a pinch-runner after Ryan Ludwick opened the inning with a single, and the message from manager Dusty Baker was simple.
"I need you to get to second base," Baker told Hamilton.
So in his Major League debut, that's what Hamilton did, stealing second after three consecutive pickoff attempts. Three pitches later, on Todd Frazier's double down the left-field line, Hamilton scored the decisive run in a 1-0 win over the Cardinals.
"At first base, I haven't been that nervous in a long time in my life," Hamilton said with a smile. "When I got on first base, I had chills running down, but I knew I couldn't be afraid. This was a big situation, so I knew I had to get to second base because it was my job, and it happened for me."
And it couldn't have happened at a better a time.
With the win, combined with a series-opening victory Monday, the Reds have moved to within 1 1/2 games of the second-place Cardinals in the National League Central and remained 3 1/2 back of the first-place Pirates, who also won Tuesday. Cincinnati and St. Louis hold the two Wild Card spots.
Hamilton entered the game well aware of its importance, and after Homer Bailey tossed seven scoreless innings, Hamilton knew exactly what he needed to do. So did the roughly 20,000 Reds fans who rose to their feet when he took first base, and so did the Cardinals.
"I didn't send him out there to paint," Baker joked. "There was no secret."
Hamilton's reputation precedes him after he set a professional record with 155 stolen bases in 2012. That speed is what made Baker think he could be an asset in the pennant race, and Hamilton's new teammates were happy to have him around.
"It's a pretty exciting game," said Frazier, who unsuccessfully tried laying down two bunts before his RBI double. "Watching Billy run -- I can watch that every day."
Hamilton only had a chance to deliver the game-winning run, though, because of the effort from Bailey. After shutting out the Cardinals for 7 1/3 innings Wednesday, Bailey was up to the task again and made it 14 1/3 straight scoreless innings against St. Louis. The 27-year-old right-hander allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out eight.
Tuesday's outing got off to a rocky start for Bailey, who gave up a base hit and a walk to the first two batters before escaping the first on a double play. He then hit Jon Jay with a pitch in the second and gave up a second single to Matt Carpenter in the third.
None of the Cardinals' early efforts materialized into runs, though, and Bailey made sure that was the case for as long as he was on the mound. Following Carpenter's single, Bailey retired his final 14 batters. He needed just 10 pitches in the fourth and another 13 in the fifth, when he struck out the side, before breezing through the sixth and seventh frames.
"There's a reason he's pitched a couple of no-hitters in his career," Carpenter said. "Tonight, he was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes. He did a great job of keeping us off-balance. He had two strikes on me in every at-bat. He was pounding the strike zone with quality pitches, and when you can do that, it's tough."
Unfortunately for the Reds, Bailey wasn't the only pitcher dealing.
Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, who pitched four scoreless innings in relief Wednesday against Cincinnati, also gave up a walk and a single in the first. However, like Bailey, Wacha recovered, and although the Reds scattered three more hits against him, he finished his day without allowing a run in six innings.
That's when the Reds finally took advantage, as Ludwick's leadoff single and Frazier's double off Cardinals reliever Seth Maness allowed for Hamilton to score and return to a celebratory Cincinnati dugout.
"They acted like we won the World Series," Hamilton said of his teammates. "These guys are just about winning and having a good time, so when I came in, being around those guys was like the best feeling ever. They congratulated me and I just thanked them for that. They're cool people."
Following the deciding seventh, Bailey wanted to remain in the game, but Baker went with left-hander Manny Parra for the eighth, setting up Aroldis Chapman, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 24. Chapman struck out the side in order for his 34th save.
The Reds have won four of their last six, and after going 4-10 to start the season series with the Cardinals, Cincinnati has taken three straight from St. Louis.
"Maybe the worm has turned hopefully in our direction," Baker said. "All that counts is this game that we played today. It's very important, especially when you're trying to chase them."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.