CINCINNATI (AP) Willson Contreras hit a three-run, first-inning homer, Luken Baker added a three-run double and the St. Louis Cardinals beat Cincinnati 9-4 on Friday night, dropping the Reds 1 1/2 games back for the NL's final wild card berth.
Nolan Arenado had three hits and snapped a career-long 11-game streak without an RBI. The Cardinals have won four of five and scored five or more runs for the sixth straight game.
Cincinnati led the NL Central at 59-49 at the start of August but is 14-21 since. The Reds (73-70) trail Arizona (74-68) and Miami (73-68) for the last wild card.
Hunter Renfroe hit a two-run homer and Nick Senzel had a solo drive in the third inning for the Reds. who stranded 12 runners and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
Cincinnati twice left the bases loaded, when Harrison Bader hit into an inning-ending forceout in the second against Drew Rom and when Matt Liberatore (3-5), the fourth of six Cardinals relievers, struck out Tyler Stephenson in the sixth.
“I didn’t feel any more adrenaline than I have any other time,” the left-hander said. “I thought he’d be aggressive, but he wasn’t. I figured he was looking fastball middle, middle-in, and try to beat me, but I wasn’t giving in.”
Liberatore fanned Stephenson with a four-seam fastball.
“That was a big moment,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. "It’s a credit to him for not letting the game speed up on him.”
St. Louis’ bullpen pitched five scoreless innings.
“Liberatore made the pitch of the game right there," Reds manager David Bell said. "You get into a position like that when you’re down and have an opportunity to come back and break through and maybe even take a lead. Tyler has been swinging the bat well. He’s had a lot of success a pinch-hitter. We got him up there, they made a pitch and got out of it.”
The Reds opened a stretch in which they play 17 of their last 20 games against teams with losing records.
Andrew Abbott (8-5) tied his career high by allowing six runs. He pitched four innings, giving up four hits and three walks.
Contreras hit a 440-foot homer into the second deck in left.
“It looked like 760 feet from where we were,” Marmol said, “That ball went a long way. It gave us momentum.”
Baker, who entered with one RBI in 18 games of his rookie season, boosted the lead to 6-0 in the third.
“He hasn't gotten a lot of steady opportunities, but he's done a nice job with the opportunities he's had,” Marmol said. “He hits the ball hard.”
Rom, a 23-year-old left-hander who went to Highlands High in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, gave up four runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings.
The Reds' Noelvi Marte scored on a double steal in the fourth.
Right fielder Jordan Walker made a diving stop in the gap of Harrison Bader’s line drive single and quickly got the ball back to the infield, throwing out Bader when he overslid the bag while also holding Noelvi Marte at third.
Marte and Spencer Steer’s double steal increased Cincinnati's major league-leading total to 165, the most by the Reds since 190 in 1997.
Reds: INF Joey Votto (left shoulder strain) and INF Jonathan India (left foot plantar fasciitis) each hit two-run doubles for Triple-A Louisville on rehab assignments. Votto was 1 for 4 and India 1 for 2 with a pair of walks. Bell expects them to be back in Cincinnati’s lineup on Sunday.
Cardinal LHP Zack Thompson (4-5, 3.91, 53 strikeouts) is scheduled to start Saturday against RHP Carson Spiers (0-0, 6.75, seven strikeouts), who will be making his second career appearance and start.
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