McCoy: Gray struggles, Reds’ comeback falls short vs. Cardinals

It was nearly a comeback of epic proportions for the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday afternoon in Great American Ball Park.

Nearly.

The Reds lost, 10-6, to the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Cardinals left the field sweating profusely — not from the heat and humidity, but from frayed nerves.

The Reds trailed by six runs early in the game and began pecking away. They were three runs down in the eighth innng and filled the bases with no outs.

But Tyler Naquin struck out, Aristides Aquino popped out and Kyle Farmer popped out.

So much for epic comebacks.

The prospect for a Reds three-game sweep was on the high end when the game began.

The Cardinals sent Johan Oviedo to the mound, a pitcher who was winless in his 16 career major league starts. And he was 0-5 in 14 starts this season.

But Reds starter Sonny Gray did his best imitation of Oviedo and gave up a career-worst eight runs in only 3 1/3 innings to put the Reds behind a beach ball-sized eight ball.

Gray gave up three home runs that accounted for seven early runs as the Cardinals ended a six-game losing streak to the Reds.

Gray gave up a two-run homer to Tyler O’Neill in the first, a three-run homer to Harrison Bader in the fourth and a two-run homer to Dylan Carlson in the fourth.

After O’Neill’s two-run blast in the first, Joey Votto gave the Reds a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the first with a three-run home run.

Gray, though, gave it all away. He left with one out in the third with an 8-3 deficit. His replacement, Edgar Garcia, gave up a two-out triple to Nolan Arenado and wild pitched him home to make it 9-3.

During that seven-run fourth, manager David Bell came to the mound with one out to remove Gray. Gray asked Bell is he could stay on the mound with the ball until Garcia reached the mound.

“I asked David if I could give the ball to Garcia,” said Gray. “He said, ‘Yes, you can.’ So I stayed out there and gave Garcia and pat and told him to pick me up.

“It’s hard in moments when it doesn’t go your way, but in that moment, I felt I needed to stay out there and pass the ball. I needed them to pick me up and the guys did.”

The bullpen gave up only two runs over the final 5 2/3 innings and the offense gave it a big effort, but the sink hole was too deep.

It was Gray’s second straight struggle. In his previous start he gave up four runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings to Milwaukee.

“I haven’t been the best version of myself,” said Gray. “The best version of myself is good enough. It’s all about being the best version of myself, continue to be the best version of myself. I have to get back to being the best version of Sonny Gray.”

The Reds began mounting a comeback, perhaps cognizant of the fact the Cardinals blew a five-run lead in the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs last week. And the Cardinals had lost 18 of their last 24 road games.

An infield single by Mike Freeman in the sixth, a pinch-hit single by Alejo Garcia and a two-out single by Tyler Stephenson plated one run, but Votto struck out with runners on third and second, keeping it at 9-4.

Two runs scored in the seventh on a two-out, two-run double by Max Schrock, drawing the Reds to within three, 9-6. Pinch-hitter Eugenio Suarez ended a day off by ending the rally with a pop foul to first.

The Cardinals also thwarted a fifth-inning rally when the Reds loaded the bases with one out against Oviedo.

That ended Oviedo’s day, two outs short of qualifying for his first major-league win.

Ryan Helsley replaced Oviedo with the bases full and he struck out Aristides Aquino with three high fastballs and ended the threat by getting Kyle Farmer on a pop-up.

After the Reds loaded the bases in the eighth and didn’t score, Ryan Hendrix began the ninth by giving up a home run to Arenado, the eighth home run given up by Hendrix in 29 innings, pushing the Cardinals to a 10-6 lead.

Stephenson did his best to rescue this one by getting on base five straight times with three hits and two walks.

Bader led the Cardinals with three hits and Arenado had three hits and scored three runs.

MONDAY’S GAME

Reds at Cubs, 8:05 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410