Central of attention: Cards sweep Reds
Wainwright, Rasmus help push Cincy aside for top spot
CINCINNATI -- That was certainly emphatic.
The Cardinals closed out a convincing sweep with a 6-1 thumping of the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday afternoon. The game was delayed for 46 minutes in the top of the eighth inning due to a rainstorm, but it was simply a matter of postponing the inevitable.
St. Louis won each of the three games by at least four runs, and outscored Cincinnati by a combined total of 21-8. The Cardinals finished a potentially difficult road trip with a 4-1 record and moved a season-high 15 games over .500. After entering the series with a two-game deficit in the National League Central, they now lead the division by one game.
"We won three games against a team that was in first place, at their park," starter Adam Wainwright said. "It's good to get three wins against anybody, but against a team like the Reds, a good quality team with possibly a Hall of Fame manager over there, they're playing hard, they're playing good all year. It's good to get the series win."
Wainwright overwhelmed the Reds' lineup for seven innings, lowering his ERA to 1.99 and tying the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez for the Major League lead with his 17th win of the season. Wainwright was barely threatened, permitting two hits and no walks and only once allowing a Reds player to reach second base.
And it took only one swing to get Wainwright all the offense he needed. Second-year center fielder Colby Rasmus worked an exceptional at-bat against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo in the fifth inning, culminating in a game-changing grand slam.
With the bases loaded and two outs in a scoreless game, Rasmus fell behind Arroyo quickly. He took a fastball on the outside corner, then fouled off the 0-1 pitch. But despite being in a hole, Rasmus stayed with his approach, avoiding Arroyo's offerings up in the strike zone and looking for something down to drive.
Rasmus laid off two fastballs well out of the zone to get to 2-2 before fouling off a couple of tough pitches to keep the at-bat alive. After taking a fastball up and away, Rasmus jumped a changeup, drilling it 418 feet to straightaway center for his first Major League grand slam.
"He likes to work that fastball up, and then that [batting-practice] fastball, that changeup, down," Rasmus explained. "And then he'll flip those sliders in there. He's gotten me to chase some of those up. So going in, having faced him quite a few times, I got kind of an idea of what he might try to do to me. So if I see those cutters up and in, or two-seamer up and in, I try to take it as best I can."
Rasmus was looking for an offspeed pitch, and he got what he wanted.
"I was trying to be as late as possible," he said. "If he threw a fastball there and beat me, then you've got to tip your cap. I was just trying to be late, and my bat sped up to it and caught up with it."
It was a remarkable at-bat, especially for a second-year player on his 24th birthday.
"Most young players are up there trying to lift and separate, hit a ball over the fence," Wainwright said. "He's just very patient, stays with his approach, knows what he can do and knows what he can't do and stays locked in on it. [He's a] very disciplined hitter, takes a lot of pitches, works the count."
St. Louis tacked on two more runs with a pair of one-out RBI singles in the seventh, but it was hardly needed. With Wainwright dealing, the game was in little doubt once Rasmus' ball left the yard. Arroyo has, at times, been a thorn in the Cardinals' side, but on Wednesday, they got the satisfaction of beating him.
"Everybody knew he had to come over the plate at that time, because you don't want to walk in a run," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "Bronson, other than that one inning, threw the ball pretty well."
Just not as well as Wainwright. The right-hander has been superb all year, but especially brilliant over the past six weeks. Wednesday marked the sixth time in his past nine starts -- and second straight -- that Wainwright did not allow a run. He has a 21-inning shutout streak dating back to the third inning of his Aug. 1 start against the Pirates.
The Cards improved to 10-5 against the Reds this year, including 6-3 at Great American Ball Park. The two rivals have one series remaining: a three-game set at Busch Stadium over Labor Day weekend. The Redbirds are 17-8 since the All-Star break.
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.