In the past, when the Cincinnati Reds were scheduled to face Dakota Hudson, they were better served if they visited the South Dakota Badlands and stayed away from the ballpark.
When Sunday afternoon’s game in Busch Stadium commenced, Hudson was 6- 0 for his career against the Reds. And in April he pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Reds in Great American Ball Park.
This time, though, despite hitting into four double plays in the first four innings and spotting him a 3-0 lead, the Reds finally solved him.
The Reds scratched, clawed and scrambled to extract a 7-6 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals to end a four-game losing streak and salvage one win in the three-game series.
But in the end, it was a breath-holder for the Reds.
Of course, the win was not without some bullpen drama. The Reds led, 7-4, entering the bottom of the ninth. Alexis Diaz retired the first two, then gave up a full-count walk to Brendon Donovan and Juan Yepez crunched a two-run home run to make it 7-6.
Suddenly, Diaz was tasked with facing 40-year-old future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, owner of 683 career home runs. And he had doubled home a run earlier in the game.
Diaz struck him out as every breath in the Reds dugout exhaled.
Hudson had given up only four earned runs in four starts this season in Busch Stadium, but the Reds scored six runs on nine hits in seven innings against him.
But it wasn’t that easy.
The Reds had to break a 4-4 tie in the seventh and the bottom of the order produced to provide a pair of runs.
Mark Reynolds led off the seventh with a single to right. TJ Friedl drove one to deep right and the ball was misplayed by Donovan. The ball zipped over his head and crashed against the wall as Friedl sprinted to third with a run-scoring triple. He scored on Albert Almora’s sacrifice fly to make it 6-4.
Reds starter Graham Ashcraft began the game 3- 0 with a 1.14 earned run average. For some reason, he nearly abandoned the cutter, his bread-and-butter pitch. Instead, he threw a slew of sliders … and it didn’t work.
The Cardinals scored a run in the first when the first two hitters, Tommy Edman and Nolan Gorman, singled on full counts. Ashcraft threw two wild pitches and a run scored.
St. Louis pushed its lead to 3-0 in the third on Gorman’s leadoff single and Nolan Arenado’s 11th home run, a hanging breaking ball offered by Ashcraft.
The Reds put runners on base in each of the first four innings, but Hudson coaxed four double plays and leads all pitchers in that category with 12.
The double plays: Tommy Pham in the first, Friedl in the second, Aramis Garcia in the third and Reynolds in the fourth.
Hudson was his own worst enemy in the fourth, even though he got a double play. The Reds scored three times to tie it, 3-3.
Brandon Drury led off the inning with a single and Hudson walked Pham and Joey Votto (on four pitches) to fill the bases. He then hit Kyle Farmer with the first pitch to force in a run.
Reynolds hit into a double play, but the second run scored. On the next pitch Friedl singled to tie it.
And the Reds barged ahead in the fifth when Aristides Aquino doubled, Garcia bunted him to third and he scored on Nick Senzel’s sacrifice fly. Aquino, though, suffered an injury on his slide home and left the game.
The one-run lead only lasted until the Cardinals came to bat in the bottom of the fifth. Tyler O’Neill and Edman singled. With one out, Pujols bounced a ground-rule double into the right field seats.
That was fortunate for the Reds. Only one run scored. If the ball had stayed in play, two would have scored.
That was the end for Ashcraft. Jeff Hoffman replaced him and walked Harrison Bader semi-intentionally on four pitches way outside the zone.
That filled the bases with two outs, but he and the Reds knew the next hitter was Andrew Knizner, 0 for 16. Hoffman made it 0 for 17, striking him out on a bad pitch, preserving the 4-4 tie.
Ashcraft’s first slightly off kilter outing lasted 4 2/3 innings and he gave up four runs and nine hits … but was not involved in the decision.
The Reds scored two in the seventh, and Pham provided what turned out to be the game-saver in the eighth with a home run off relief pitcher Johan Oviedo.
Then came the ninth-inning excitement that Diaz staved off.