ST. LOUIS -- There was one way for the Reds to avoid the stress induced by losing big games and questions about self-inflicted mistakes or poor decisions: Play better.
It was seemingly that simple Wednesday night. The Reds opened up a huge early lead, supported by Jay Bruce's five RBIs, and Homer Bailey protected it well on their way to a 10-0 win against the Cardinals. The victory avoided a three-game series sweep for Cincinnati, which inched to 3 1/2 games behind National League Central-leading St. Louis.
"I don't think we thought about how many games back we were, but we knew that we needed to win this game," Bailey said. "We can't come in here and get swept. Then you're really far back."
This was a game in which all facets seemed to hit the right note for Cincinnati. Until Cesar Izturis, a late replacement at third base, made a two-out error in the ninth inning, it was a mistake-free game following back-to-back losses filled with gaffes and unforced errors.
"I can guarantee you that we didn't prepare any differently," Bruce said. "We're professionals, and we prepare the same every day. Games like this are definitely welcomed."
Reds manager Dusty Baker tinkered with his lineup by moving Brandon Phillips to the second spot and Bruce to the fourth spot. It paid off, as Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright lasted only two innings, facing 16 batters in that span.
Wainwright, who had allowed four runs in only one of his previous seven starts, was down by that total six batters into this game. He faced five batters before notching the game's first out, and even that drove in a run.
"It always helps to jump them early," Baker said. "It's a strange game. You don't hit one of the rookies [Joe Kelly on Tuesday]. Then today we hit one of the best pitchers in the game out there. There is no explanation for it. Our guys came out ready to hit. The main difference is we got some hits with runners in scoring position. We didn't leave any out there."
Shin-Soo Choo and Phillips started it with singles before Joey Votto's walk loaded the bases. Bruce lined a two-run single to center field, before Ryan Ludwick sent an RBI double to left field. Bruce scored on Todd Frazier's groundout to second base, and St. Louis had its own miscue when no one covered the bag on a Zack Cozart ground ball to first baseman Allen Craig. Cozart earned a single on the play, and Ludwick came home on a wild pitch to Ryan Hanigan. Bailey's RBI single to center field made it a 6-0 game.
Very important was that Bailey followed with a 1-2-3 bottom half of the frame before the Reds kept applying the pressure on Wainwright in the second inning.
"As we've seen before, six runs with this team doesn't mean you've already won," Bailey said. "It was really important for us to go out there the first couple of innings and put up zeros."
Phillips blooped a single to right field before another Votto walk. Bruce crushed a 1-2 pitch to the seats in right-center field for a three-run homer. It was his 26th homer of the season and the five-RBI night tied a career high.
"He was making mistakes and we were taking advantage of them," Bruce said of Wainwright. "It's not likely for him. He pretty well knows what he's doing up there, to say the least. We kind of gave them a little bit of what they gave us. They made mistakes, and we took advantage. That's the type of baseball we expect to play."
After finishing the second, Wainwright was lifted for reliever Michael Wacha, who struck out seven over four scoreless innings. The Reds did not score again until the ninth, when Chris Heisey hit a solo home run deep to left field.
Fortunately, the early outburst proved to be more than ample support for Bailey, who allowed five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings and 117 pitches
Bailey was rarely in danger, as he helped himself with a pair of double plays. In the fourth inning, after a Craig one-out single off of Frazier's glove at third base, Carlos Beltran bounced to Cozart at shortstop for an a inning-ending double play. David Freese hit a one-out single in the seventh, but was erased by Rob Johnson's 4-6-3 double play.
"The pitcher has to pretend it's 0-0," Baker said. "He can't pitch to the scoreboard. You have to pitch your game. That's what he did."
This was a much-needed thumping for the Reds, who entered after dropping four of the past five games. They have won only five of their 15 games this season against St. Louis.
It also ended a stretch of 20 games in 20 days for the Reds, who are off Thursday before beginning a three-game series in Colorado. A homestand follows, with the first four games against the Cardinals.
"We end this streak of 20 games in a row on a positive note and pick up a game," Baker said. "You feel relieved, because everybody is tired. It's not called the dog days for nothing.
"It feels good to hear the music playing [in the clubhouse], especially here in St. Louis. It's been kind of a morgue the last couple of days. I want my guys to be happy."