Friday, April 14, 2006

A Near-Flawless Performance: Reds Blank Cards 1-0, Move to 7-3

After watching Friday night's game in the series opener of the Reds versus the Cardinals in new Busch Stadium, maybe we have seen a Reds team that has found a way to be "new" again themselves. Gone are the bad memories of last year, when any of the contending teams in the NL Central would have cleaned the clocks of the lowly Reds. So far this season, the Reds have faced only division rivals (Cubs five times, Pirates four times, and the Cardinals now once). Would people have guessed that seven of those ten games played would be wins right now, including against previous division front-runner St. Louis?

Friday night was an absolute classic pitching duel where you were waiting to see what happened next and were sad to see somebody have to lose. The truth is you really hope that the opposition loses a close one like this was to bolster your own team's confidence that they can win the big games. The Reds sent Aaron Harang to the mound, coming off a solid outing against the Pirates last Saturday, while the Cardinals countered with reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter, who clearly can pitch in the big games.

Harang and Carpenter hooked up in this one for a "good old-fashioned good one" (as Marty would say) since the starters and the bullpens combined to allow only one run total. Harang (2-1) was the victor in this battle, thanks to some stellar bullpen relief in the eighth inning by Kent Mercker and Todd Coffey. Coffey was particularly strong in striking out Jim Edmonds with the bases loaded and two outs to end a Cardinals threat in the bottom of that inning. Carpenter was the hard-luck loser (1-1) in allowing only one run in eight solid innings. Harang was slightly more impressive, with no runs allowed in seven innings on only four hits with four strikeouts and a single walk (issued to the only batter he faced in the top of the eighth). David Weathers, the default closer for now, knocked out the ninth inning on an inning-ending double play from Yadier Molina to capture his third save in as many chances.

With the victory, the Reds climb to 7-3 and stand alone in first place in the NL Central heading into Saturday's game two of the three-game series against the Cardinals. The Cardinals are now at .500 (5-5) following this loss, which is certainly a slow start for a team that many picked to win the division or at least be a strong wild card contender.

Certainly, over the course of a long baseball season, fortunes can change, but let all of us Reds' fans the world over rejoice that Cincinnati's team is the division leader for now.

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