CINCINNATI – After his first Opening Day as the Reds center fielder, Billy Hamilton blamed his four at-bat, four-strikeout nightmare on putting too much pressure on himself and on facing the ace of the Cardinals staff for the first time.
"He's a great pitcher," Hamilton said of Adam Wainwright, a 19-game winner last year. "That's the first time I faced him. I've watched other hitters against him, but that's not the same as facing him yourself. It was a learning experience for me."
Hamilton promised not to be discouraged (or at least to get over it quickly.)
"It's OK. It's Opening Day. It can only get better from here," Hamilton said. "I put too much pressure on myself, but I'll be all right now."
Johnny Cueto pitches against St. Louis on Opening Day, March 31, 2014, in Cincinnati. Photo by Jessica Noll | WCPO
If you're a Reds fan, you're probably willing to give Hamilton a pass.
You know new manager Bryan Price did.
But the really disappointed fans must have gone home mumbling about the whole team's lack of hitting and one missed scoring opportunity after another in the Reds' 1-0 loss Monday.
The Reds hadn't been shut out on Opening Day since 1953 – and with any luck, it will be another 61 years before it happens again. But with Michael Wacha pitching for the Cards Wednesday night and Lance Lynn going Thursday afternoon, it might not even take 61 hours for the next shutout.
Reds hitters struck out 12 times Monday, went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, left nine on base and couldn't take advantage of three Cardinals' errors – including two in the eighth inning, when the Cardinals gift-wrapped the tying run for them.
Runners on first and third, no outs. Wainwright was out of the game and the Cardinals bullpen was in.
Brandon Phillips led off with a walk, then second baseman Kolten Wong misplayed Joey Votto's grounder, allowing Votto to reach first and Phillips to go to third.
Jay Bruce then hit a high bouncer to first. Phillips was running on impact and got caught in a rundown between third and home. At least Phillips avoided a tag long enough to let Votto advance and Bruce reach first.
So the Reds still had a runner in scoring position with one out.
It was Ryan Ludwick's turn to ground to Wong, and it looked like a sure double play. Wong threw out Bruce at second as Votto went to third, but Matt Adams dropped Jhonny Peralta's throw to first, and Ludwick was safe.
That brought up Todd Frazier, who had two of the Reds' three hits.
But reliever Carlos Martinez got Frazier on a called third strike to end the threat.
"We weren't able to get a hit there. It was disappointing," Price said, "but there will be more disappointments along the way."
The Reds should have been looking forward to hitting against Wainwright.
"If you had told me we would allow just one run on a solo shot, I'd take that every day, especially with our lineup," Reds catcher Brayan Pena said.
Wainwright might have been a mystery to Hamilton, but the other Reds owned the right-hander last year.
"I've never pitched great against the Reds," said Wainwright, who went 1-3 against Cincinnati last season with a 7.77 ERA. "Today I wanted to make the emphasis on executing pitches. I tried to simplify it as much as possible."
Reds starter Johnny Cueto matched Wainwright scoreless inning for scoreless inning, strikeout for strikeout. Cueto struck out the side in the second inning and retired the Cardinals 1-2-3 in the third, fourth and sixth.
But the Reds couldn't string any of their four walks and three hits into a run.
They wasted Phillips' one-out single in the first when Votto struck out and Bruce lined out.
In the second, Todd Frazier singled and - surprise - stole second. But Zack Cozart struck out, Wainwright walked Pena intentionally, and Cueto struck out.
Phillips walked with one out in the third, but Joey Votto chopped the ball in front of home plate and catcher Yodier Molina pounced on it and turned into a 2-6-3 double play.
Frazier hit a two-out single in the fourth, but Cozart flied to left.
The pattern was set.
The Reds wasted another good chance in the fifth when center fielder Peter Bourjos flubbed Pena's line drive to left center and Pena wound up on second with no outs.
But Cueto bunted and Wainwright threw out Pena at third, and then Hamilton and Phillips struck out.
The Reds had another chance in the sixth. Bruce walked with one out, and after Ludwick struck out, went to second on a wild pitch.
Frazier walked, but Cozart tapped meekly in front of the plate, and Molina threw him out at first.
Molina became the game's only batting star when he homered to left in the seventh.
Cardinal relievers Pat Neshek, Kevin Nieigrist and Carlos Martinez pitched the eighth and Trevor Rosenthal closed out the Reds with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Rosenthal struck out Cozart and Pena and got pinch-hitter Roger Bernadina, who hit .413 this spring, to fly to right.
Although Price was managing his first major-league game, he's been around
long enough to keep calm and reassuring. And nobody else in the Reds clubhouse was sounding an alarm after one game.
"It's Game 1, so if you're worrying about struggling right now, there's a problem," Frazier said. "For us, we lost Game 1 last year (and) we made the playoffs, so it's not really worrying. Baseball's a tough game.
Bruce responded in kind:
"Really, the only action the Cardinals had all day was that Yadier home run, so it was a tough game, well-played game, I'm sure we'll see some more close games like that this year."
I'm sure Cueto would like to see some runs this year.
Cueto's third straight Opening Day start was a testament to the importance of being healthy. He was on the disabled list three times in 2013 and started only 11 games.
Cueto changed his delivery slightly to try to avoid injury, and was on the mark on Monday until Molina connected.
"Johnny was terrific," Price said. "You're accustomed to that type of performance. Not only was he healthy, he seemed free-and-easy. He was letting it go. He gave us a great chance to win."
Left-hander Tony Cingrani pitches for the Reds on Opening Night at 7:10 Wednesday, and Homer Bailey is scheduled to go in Thursday's 12:35 start.