CINCINNATI (AP) — Even with their recent slump, the St. Louis Cardinals still lead the National League in scoring runs — by a wide margin, too.
That slump can't last very long, can it?
Homer Bailey pitched the first seven innings of a two-hitter, and Billy Hamilton got his first steal in the majors and scored on Todd Frazier's double in the seventh inning Tuesday night, sending the Cincinnati Reds to a 1-0 victory.
St. Louis was blanked for the third time in the last six games. All three shutouts have come against NL Central rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, part of a three-team race for the playoffs.
"We've got an offense that's played a lot of games this year and done extremely well," manager Mike Matheny said. "You can't start trying to reinvent the wheel. It was just a tough night."
It turned on Hamilton's blink-of-an-eye debut, one that the Cardinals had awaited.
Hamilton set a professional record by swiping 155 bases in the minors last year. He got an ovation when he made his big league debut as a pinch runner for Ryan Ludwick, who led off the seventh with a single against Seth Maness (5-2).
The 20,219 fans in the stands and everyone on the field and in the dugouts knew what was coming. Hamilton was about to test one of the toughest catchers in the game. Could he outrun catcher Yadier Molina's throw?
After Maness threw to first three times, Hamilton took off and beat an off-target throw from Molina, who rushed a bit.
"He was just another baserunner," Maness said. "We know he's fast, but you treat him no different. Get the ball to the plate quick and make the throw.
"It was a bang-bang play. That's baseball."
Hamilton scored easily on Frazier's hit and got congratulatory slaps in the dugout.
Bailey (10-10) allowed two hits and retired his last 14 batters. Aroldis Chapman threw four pitches that registered 103 mph while fanning the heart of the Cardinals' order in the ninth for his 34th save in 39 chances.
By taking the first two in the four-game series, the Reds snapped the Cardinals' streak of winning seven straight series between the NL Central rivals. St. Louis is 10-7 against Cincinnati this season.
The head-to-head opportunities are dwindling. Second-place St. Louis is a game and a half ahead of Cincinnati. The Cardinals host the division-leading Pirates for three games next weekend, completing their season series. The Reds play Pittsburgh six times in their last nine games.