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Kelly helps boost Cards to 8-5 comeback win over Reds

By Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

CINCINNATI — What began as another false start for righty Lance Lynn ended as a genuine statement of intent by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rescued by rookie Joe Kelly and powered by Allen Craig and Yadier Molina, the Cardinals flipped Cincinnati’s early lead into an emphatic 8-5 victory against the Reds on Friday at Great American Ball Park. The Cardinals cut the first-place Reds’ lead down to six games, but more important started what could be a defining road trip with a win.

“It’s one of those character wins,” manager Mike Matheny said after his team’s fourth victory in a row and second rally from at least a three-run deficit in as many days. “The guys didn’t stop, didn’t stop fighting. That’s the kind of team we’re going to have to be the rest of the way.”

The game started off haltingly, as if the Cardinals had jetlag for five innings.

The Reds pounced on Lynn and his ongoing struggles for a quick lead before Matheny, practicing the urgency that he’s been preaching, yanked the righty two batters into the third inning. He could because Kelly, less than two weeks removed from being in the rotation, still had starter’s stamina. He may have a claim on a starter’s role after holding the Reds back for three innings, allowing the offense to catch up and take down Reds starter Mat Latos. Craig blistered a three-run homer off Latos in the sixth inning to tie the score at 5-5, and three pitches later Molina followed with a solo homer for the go-ahead run.

The Cardinals are on a 10-game jaunt against three of the top teams in the NL. After weeks of insisting every game has the same weight, Matheny has embraced the gravity of this trip. He mentioned it to his team during their pre-series squad meetings Friday, telling them if they weren’t energized by what’s at stake here in Cincinnati “you probably need to check to see if you have a heartbeat.”

“I think there is definitely a point where you have to accept the challenge,” said Craig, who joined Molina and Skip Schumaker with three hits apiece in the win. “You can take it one game at a time but put some extra importance on these games.”

That was clear with how quickly Matheny made a move on Lynn.

Kelly started warming up in the second inning. In each of the first three innings, the first two Reds reached base against the righty. Both scored in the first inning for a 2-0 lead, and one scored in the second as Cincy claimed a 3-1 lead. For the second consecutive start, Lynn failed to get through the fifth inning. In his past 28 1/3 innings—over a span of six starts—Lynn has allowed 25 runs for a 7.94 ERA and 56 baserunners.

Asked if he thinks the workload is catching up with him, Lynn gave an abrupt, “No.”

“I got in the game and couldn’t get anybody out,” said Lynn, who allowed four runs on six hits in two innings. “Sometimes you just don’t have what you need at a certain time to a certain guy and it winds up being in their favor.”

Calling on his experience as a college closer, Kelly (4-5) was warm quickly. He entered with runners on base for the first time this season and decided not to warm up from the windup as a result. One inherited runner scored. He struck out two batters with the bases loaded to minimize the damage. Those were the first two of five consecutive strikeouts for Kelly and 13 overall by relievers. He completed three innings and allowed only one run against six strikeouts.

“Bullpen, starting, (either way) you want to damage control as much as you can whenever you can,” Kelly said. “I wanted to save runs for Lance because I know how it is. I just wanted to keep it close. Five runs here is nothing. A couple swings of the bat and you’re winning the ballgame.”

True. It took two swings for the Cardinals to take the lead.

But it started with the smallest of dives: Carlos Beltran’s headfirst slide into first.

Beltran, batting No. 2 for the first time in two months, dived for the base on a sharp grounder to beat the play for an infield hit. The dugout, filled with meandering Cardinals one moment, burst into cheering the next. Matt Holliday followed with a single to right field. And then the jubilee began. Craig hit his 19th home run of the season to dead center field to tie the score. Molina followed three pitches later with the home run, his 17th, that broke the tie.

“That was a huge spark,” said Schumaker, who was once encouraged to halt his headfirst slides into first. “We believe that anything can happen in this park with our offense.”

The first five batters of the inning reached base, and Latos (10-4) did not get an out in the inning before leaving the game to a reliever. The best offense in the National League scored score two more runs. The Cardinals sent 11 batters to the plate in the sixth, rapped six hits and turned a three-run deficit into a three-run lead.

Jason Motte closed the game for his 30th save.

While the Cardinals answered Matheny’s challenge, they did not leave the win without questions. David Freese took a pitch off his left wrist and, though he didn’t require X-rays, will have to see how it feels today. And Lynn’s struggles will have to be addressed. Matheny said it was too fresh to discuss Lynn skipping a start. He did allow that Kelly gives him an alternative. He’ll be available in a few days.

The role awaiting him is to be determined.

“At this point in the season we need to win every game,” Schumaker said. “We’ve been in that position before. It’s no secret around here that we want to win the division. We’re not just running for the wild card here.”

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