It was a messy first three innings for Cincinnati Reds rookie pitcher Tyler Mahle Wednesday night in Busch Stadium III against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals stranded seven runners in the first three innings, but give credit to Mahle. When the chips were down, he picked them all up.
After escaping unscathed in those three innings, Mahle retired six of the last seven he faced — five shutout innings.
And it earned him his first major league victory in his fourth start after the Reds lost his first three starts and he was 0-and-2 with a respectable 3.60 earned run average.
A grand slam home run in the fifth inning by Eugenio Suarez put the exclamation point on a 6-0 victory that cost the Cardinals a game in the National League Central standings, dropping them for second to third.
They trail the Chicago Cubs by 3 games and the Milwaukee Brewers slipped past them into second, 2 ½ behind the Cubs.
Jesse Winker gave Mahle a 1-0 lead with a leadoff home run in the first inning against Cardinals rookie Jack Flaherty.
Then Mahle played Houdini for three innings.
—The Cardinals had two on with two outs in the first and Yadier Molina blooped one into shallow right field. Jesse Winker made a diving, sliding catch to end the inning.
—Mahle walked two and had the bases loaded with two outs in the second. Tommy Pfam grounded to second on a 3-and-2 pitch to end the inning.
—The Cardinals had two on with one out in the third. Kolten Wong flied to left and Stephen Piscotty flied to right to end the inning.
Mahle then pitchd a 1-2-3 fourth. He hit Pfam with a pitch to start the fourth, then retired the last three, the last one a strikeout of Yadier Molina.
But it took Mahle 100 pitches to navigate those five innings and he was given some hand shakes, some pates on the back and a seat in the dugout.
For his five innings he gave up no runs, four hits, walked three, hit a batter and struck out four. The Cardinals had eight baserunners but couldn’t find home plate as Mahle pitched out of trouble like a veteran instead of a 22-year-old rookie who pitched most of the season at Class AA Pensacola.
Flaherty held the Reds to the one run provided by Winker’s home run through four innings.
The fifth inning was full of fortune for the Reds.
Jose Peraza beat an infield hit to shortstop to open the Reds fifth. Tucker grounded to pitcher Flaherty, an easy double play. But he dropped the ball taking it out of his glove and could only throw Barnhart out at first.
Then on a 2-and-2 pitch Flaherty hit opposing pitcher Mahle in the back with a pitch, putting runners on second and first.
To his ultimate dismay, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny went with a quick hook and yanked Flaherty in favor of left hander Ryan Sherriff.
It worked when he induced a pop-up from Winker for the second out. And it appeared he had the third out that would leave the score at 1-0. Zack Cozart grounded to deep short and shortstop Paul DeJong made a diving stop. From his stomach he flipped the ball to second and Mahle was called out ostensibly end the inning.
The Reds, though, challenged the call and replay revealed the Mahle was safe at second and the inning continued — much to the benefit of the Reds.
Joey Votto singled to make it 2-0 and on a 1-and-1 pitch Suarez unloaded his second career grand slam, his 25th home run of the season and the seventh grand slam by the Reds this season.
Suddenly, instead of 1-0, the Reds led, 6-0.
From there, the Cardinals went away quietly after winning four straight and 11 of their previous 14.
Mahle retired eight of the last nine he faced. Kevin Shackelford faced six batters in two innings and gave up an infield hit but ended his appearance with a double play ball.
Michael Lorenzen pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Luke Farrell finished it with a 1-2-3 ninth as Reds pitchers retired 19 of the last 20 Cardinals. So, after scoring 13 against the Reds Tuesday, the Cardinals scored zero Wednesday.