ST. LOUIS — Choosing to face Albert Pujols with the bases loaded was a no-brainer for Danny Graves.
Nursing a one-run lead and with runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Cincinnati Reds manager Dave Miley had his closer walk Larry Walker intentionally to load the bases. The move worked out perfectly when the St. Louis Cardinals’ most dangerous hitter grounded into a double play, ending the Reds’ 6-5 victory on Wednesday.
“If you play the percentages, that’s the thing to do,” Graves said after getting his second save. “Righty against righty. Bases loaded, force at any base. So, that’s what we did. Of course, if it doesn’t work, everybody’s going to second-guess Miley.”
Graves, the fourth Reds pitcher, entered the inning with a 6-4 lead and gave up an RBI ground-rule double to David Eckstein that would also have driven in the tying run had the ball not bounced over the left-field wall.
“Thank God the warning track was real hard today or it wouldn’t have bounced over,” Graves said. “That’s probably the only rule in all of baseball that’s good for the pitchers.”
Pujols grounded the first pitch from Graves sharply to third baseman Joe Randa, who stepped on third and threw to first for the final out.
“We got a tough break; it’s part of the game,” Pujols said. “I don’t get frustrated about it because I know it’s early.”
Pujols wasn’t surprised the Reds chose to pitch to him. Walker hit a grand slam off Graves the last time he faced him.
“That was the play,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It takes a lot of guts to make it.”
Mark Mulder flopped again in his second outing for the Cardinals, with Austin Kearns hitting a three-run homer and Randa getting three hits for the Reds.
Matt Belisle (1-1), starting because Ramon Ortiz was scratched before the game because of a groin injury, got his second career win and first since 2003. He pitched five strong innings in his first major league start.
Kearns hit his first home run of the year to help the Reds win for the first time in five games on the road this season. They averaged two runs in the first four road losses.
Jim Edmonds had a home run for the second straight day, and Reggie Sanders added a three-run home run for the NL champion Cardinals, who were 2-3 on their first homestand and are 3-4 overall. Last year, St. Louis started slowly but led the major leagues with 105 victories.
“We’re fine, it’s just one of those things,” Sanders said. “We’re not stressing at all.”
Mulder, who won 17 games for the Oakland Athletics last year but was 0-4 with a 7.27 ERA in his last seven starts, has an 8.18 ERA in two starts for St. Louis. He had won eight straight decisions in day games dating to Aug. 3, 2003.
The Reds launched a pair of two-out rallies against the left-hander, bunching four straight hits in the third for two runs and five more in a four-run fifth that put them ahead 6-1.
“At certain times with two outs I made some bad pitches over the middle of the plate,” Mulder said. “It’s not something I’m thinking about when I’m out there but it happened both times today. You’ve got to execute a little better and make better pitches.”
After Edmonds’ home run put St. Louis ahead in the second, Cincinnati took a 2-1 lead in the third on RBI singles by D’Angelo Jimenez and Randa.