McCoy: Reds drop series opener to Cardinals, fall further behind in wild-card chase

The Cincinnati Reds left the starting gate in reverse Friday night in Great American Ball Park, spotting the St. Louis Cardinals a six-furlong lead they couldn’t make up during a 9-4 loss.

They tried.

After Reds starting pitcher Andrew Abbott fell behind, 6-0, in three innings, the Reds tried to use their tried-and-true script with a dramatic comeback.

By the fourth inning, the Reds had sliced the Cardinal lead to 6-4, but relief pitcher Fernando Cruz gave up two in the seventh and the Reds had no late uprising in their dop kits on this night.

They left the bases loaded twice and for the night they left 12 runners standing harmlessly on bases.

So Cincinnati took a false first step as they entered a soft spot in their schedule, 17 of their last 20 games against teams under .500.

The Cardinals are in last place in the National League Central 17 1/2 out of first place and the loss was costly to the Reds. Arizona beat the Chicago Cubs on Friday afternoon. That dropped the Reds 1 1/2 games behind the Diamondbacks for the last wild card spot. And they fell a game behind Miami.

It was thought that Reds rookie left-hander Andrew Abbott would get a few days of extra rest between starts. But because the cupboard is empty of starting pitchers, Abbott was sent to the mound out of necessity.

And for two quick hitters in the top of the first, it looked like a good decision. But with two outs, Abbott walked Paul Goldschmidt on a full count.

Nolan Arenado hit one to third baseman Noelvi Marte, a routine grounder. But Marte bobbled it and then threw it away. Arenado was generously given a hit.

It should have been the third out with no damage, but St. Louis catcher Willson Contreras nearly hit one to Fort Thomas, Ky., a 440-foot three-run homer off a 93-mph fastball that never reached the catcher’s mitt. It crash landed halfway up the upper deck. That gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead before the Reds picked up a bat.

The Reds filled the bases in the home second with two outs, affording former Cardinal Harrison Bader to make his old team pay. But he grounded into an inning-concluding force out, leaving it a 3-0.

It was Deja vu in the third inning. Once again Abbott retired the first two. Once again St. Louis scored three runs.

With two outs, Abbott walked Goldschmidt on a full count for the second straight time. Arenado singled and Contreras walked to load the bases.

Designated hitter Luken Baker, a 280-pound hulk, was behind 0-and-2 when he checked his swing and rolled a three-run double to left field and it was 6-0.

The Reds awakened in the third when Spencer Steer singled and Renfroe drilled his first home run in a Cincinnati uniform (the black City Connects), a liner into the left field seats.

One out later, Senzel mimicked Renfroe by depositing another home run into the left field seats, cutting the St. Louis lead to 6-3.

The Reds pulled off a double steal in the fourth that produced a run and some dissension in the St. Louis dugout.

With Marte on third and Steer on first, Steer stole second. Catcher Contreras threw to second and Norman Gorman dropped the throw and Marte bolted home.

When Gorman dropped the throw, Contreras threw his hands in the air in disgust. Gorman was unhappy when the inning was over, and Goldschmidt had to calm him and keep him away from Contreras.

And Bell removed Abbott from the premises after four innings — six runs, four hits, three walks and a home run.

The St. Louis starter was Drew Rom, a Cincinnati native who attended Highlands High School, just across the Ohio River in Fort Thomas, Ky.

He was Mr. Kentucky Baseball his senior year at Highlands and pitched them to the state high school finals.

His first three MLB starts were less than noteworthy, 0-2 with a 7.24 earned run average.

Veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright, who has lost seven straight decisions on his retirement tour, sat down with Rom for a pep-him-up talk after his second start. It hasn’t worked.

Pitching with that early 6-0 lead, Rom gave up four runs and seven hits in only 3 2/3 innings.

Down 6-4, the Reds tried the St. Louis method in the fifth. With two outs, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and pinch-hitter Nick Martini singled, but relief pitcher Andre Pallante coaxed an inning-ending pop-up from Marte.

St. Louis relief pitcher Casey Lawrence hit No. 9 hitter Luke Maile with a pitch to open the sixth and with two outs walked Renfroe on four pitches.

Manager Oliver Marmol brought in his fifth pitcher to face Elly De La Cruz and he walked him, filling the bases.

Bell dispatched another pinch-hitter to the plate, Tyler Stephenson, hitting .480 over his previous 11 games. With a full count, Stephenson struck out. Through six innings, the Reds stranded 10 runners.

Fernando Cruz, just off the COVID-19 injured list, started the seventh and his pitchers were here, there and everywhere.

His first pitch hit Tommy Edman. He stole second. Tyler O’Neill walked on four pitches. Both runners moved up to third and second and Edman scored on another wild pitch. With two outs, Arenado blooped a one-handed half-swing single to left, scoring Tyler O’Neill. Lars Nootbaar doubled home a run in the eighth.

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