Cincinnati Reds pocket sixth consecutive series win

What’s bigger? Winning a sixth straight series for the first time in 17 years or just beating the St. Louis Cardinals in a series, period?

The rebuilding Cincinnati Reds will take either one and run with it — or, rather, fly happily to Pittsburgh.

Brandon Finnegan turned in his second consecutive start of six scoreless innings, Ramon Cabrera drove in a career-high three runs and Brandon Phillips collected three hits and three runs as the Reds took the rubber match of their three-game series against arch-rival St. Louis with a convincing 7-0 win Thursday.

A crowd of 21,119 at Great American Ball Park watched Finnegan (7-8) need an economical 79 pitches, 52 of them strikes, and allow two hits to dispatch the Cardinals, who had won 18 of the previous 22 series against Cincinnati, including eight of the previous 11 in Cincinnati.

“I didn’t have my best stuff, but I commanded the ball well,” said Finnegan, who didn’t walk anybody and struck out four. “That’s been the key for me all season. They hit some balls hard. We played good defense. Without my defense, I would’ve been pretty bad today.”

“You know what to say,” outfielder Billy Hamilton said loudly to Finnegan as reporters hovered near their adjoining cubicles. “One hit. Nasty.”

“He fell behind, but he made pitches,” manager Bryan Price said. “He had the best slider I’ve seen since he’s been in Cincinnati. It’s nice to have three pitches to work with.”

The Reds have won all six of their series since the All-Star break, the first time since July and August of 1999 that they’ve won as many as six consecutive series. The shutout win was their fourth of the season, tied for fewest in the National League.

“It’s all those guys,” Price said, nodding toward the clubhouse. “There are situations where guys would phone it in a little bit, but these guys haven’t. It’s what we had hoped to do — play better after the All-Star break.”

Joey Votto went 0-for-4, including two called third strikes shown by television technology to be borderline at best, to see his hitting streak snapped at a career-high 17 games.

Third baseman Eugenio Suarez, whose defensive improvement was the topic of pregame interviews, was charged with an error on the first play of the game — a scoring decision that was changed to a hit more than an hour after the last pitch. Finnegan escaped unscathed and retired the next 13 before Jhonny Peralta grounded a single to left for the Cardinals’ first hit.

Phillips led off the second against former Reds right-hander Mike Leake with a single and went to third on Scott Schebler’s double to right. Both scored on Cabrera’s one-out single between first base and St. Louis first baseman Brandon Moss, who probably would’ve started an inning-ending double play if Schebler hadn’t been able to go to second and was instead being held on first by Moss.

Phillips started another rally in the fourth with a leadoff, opposite-field double down the right-field line. Schebler got Phillips to third with a sharp one-hopper to Moss and Suarez drove him in with a sacrifice fly to right field, just short of the warning track.

Leake (8-9), who went into the game with a career-high streak of 30 consecutive innings without allowing a walk, the longest active stretch in the majors, lengthened it to 35 before he walked Adam Duvall to lead off the sixth. Duvall scored on Phillips’ double up the left-center field gap. Phillips stole third before Schebler was hit by a pitch and scored on Suarez’ double to left, knocking Leake out of the game.

Cabrera greeted reliever Seth Maness with another RBI single, and Suarez capped the four-run inning by scoring on pinch-hitter Tyler Holt’s double-play grounder.

Raisel Iglesias extended to 22 2/3 his streak of consecutive scoreless relief innings over his last 11 appearances, both career highs.