Could’ve fooled Homer Bailey.
Matt Holliday, David Freese and Yadier Molina homered off the Reds starter during the St. Louis Cardinals’ biggest first inning of the season, and Jake Westbrook found his control after a rough start, beating Cincinnati 7-1 on Monday night.
The Cardinals improved to 4-1 with an offense that hasn’t missed Pujols so far. They’ve piled up three homers in an inning twice already this season, with nine overall.
And they’ve done it without really trying.
“I don’t see us as very much of a home run-hitting team,” Freese said.
Manager Mike Matheny sees the homer spurt as more of a good start than the start of a trend.
“That’s a tough pace to keep up, but you take ’em when you can get ’em,” Matheny said. “Guys are having some good at-bats.”
Only 20 pitches into the game, Bailey (0-1) had his hands on his hips and a 4-0 deficit that the Reds couldn’t overcome. Molina broke the game open with a two-run double in the eighth inning.
Westbrook (1-0) overcame an early bout of wildness, allowing only three hits and one unearned run in seven innings. The right-hander slimmed down in the offseason and had an impressive spring training, getting the sink back on his fastball.
Both starters had a rough time early on a windy, 64-degree evening. Matheny said the Cardinals batting-practice pitchers had trouble getting a grip on the ball in the crisp conditions.
“I know exactly what was going on with him early,” Matheny said. “That’s the first time we’ve had that really dry air. The ball felt like it has Vaseline on it. He couldn’t grip it.”
Westbrook was pitching for the first time in nine days. Ten of his first 12 pitches were out of the strike zone. He walked four of the first 10 batters he faced, but didn’t allow a hit until Brandon Phillips singled with two outs in the fifth.
Phillips came around to score when Zack Cozart hit a comebacker that Westbrook knocked down with his glove. Westbrook retrieved the ball, but threw wildly toward first base for an error that allowed Phillips to score.
The All-Star second baseman got a cramp in his left hamstring as he scored and left the game as a precaution.
Westbrook got a better feel for his pitches after the second inning.
“It took me a little while to get going,” he said. “Once I figured it out, I pitched the way I’m capable of throwing. I just zoned it in.”
Bailey retired the first two Cardinals, then came apart. Holliday homered, Lance Berkman walked and Freese homered. Molina also homered on the next pitch, prompting Bailey to stand by the side of the mound with both hands scrunched on his hips in disbelief.
Freese, the World Series MVP, has hit safely in every game this season.
“I just got a little passive,” Bailey said. “I got the two quick outs and I didn’t say aggressive. Once you open that can of worms, it’s kind of hard to shut it. Plus the wind was blowing out. After that, I just wanted to go deep into the game. A couple of the balls they hit out were hit really solid.”
After the bad opening inning, Bailey settled in and allowed only two more hits while pitching into the sixth inning. Molina broke the game open with his double off Jose Arredondo in the eighth, which brought boos from the crowd of 16,909 that remembers his role in a brawl with Phillips two years ago.
Berkman wasn’t in the Cardinals’ original lineup because of a sore right hand. He took a few swings pregame and felt fine, getting back in the lineup at first base. He singled, struck out twice and walked twice.
The Cardinals wanted Berkman in the lineup — he has 23 homers at Great American Ball Park, the most by a visiting player.
— Associated Press —