CINCINNATI – Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has been the player Reds fans love to hate since he tangled with Brandon Phillips at home plate in 2010 .
Monday's Opening Day crowd booed Molina loudly during pregame introductions, and they booed him again when he hit a seventh-inning homer to left to beat Johnny Cueto and the Reds 1-0 at Great American Ball Park.
It was the first time the Reds were shut out on Opening Day since 1953. They managed just three hits.
For that matter, Molina's homer was just the Cardinals' third hit and broke up an outstanding pitching duel between Cueto and Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright.
Reds rookie center fielder Billy Hamilton had a nightmarish first Opening Day, striking out four times in four at-bats against the Cardinals ace.
Both starters allowed three hits over seven innings. Wainwright had nine strikeouts and walked four. Cueto struck out eight and walked one.
Still, disappointed Reds fans were sure to go home mumbling about the lack of offense.
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips is caught in a pickle between third base and home plate in the eighth inning of the 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, March 31, 2014, in Cincinnati. Photos by Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO
Reds hitters struck out 12 times, went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, left nine on base and couldn't take advantage of three Cardinals' errors.
The Reds had their best scoring chance in the eighth inning when they had runners on first and third with none out.
Johnny Cueto pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day, March 31, 2014, in Cincinnati. Photo by Jessica Noll | WCPO
p>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.
But Jay Bruce smashed a grounder to first, and Phillips was caught in a rundown between third and home, with Votto taking second.
So the Reds still had a runner in scoring position with one out.
Ryan Ludwick grounded 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.
The Reds got a scare just five pitches into the game when leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter hit a comebacker at Cueto, stirring the painful image of closer Aroldis Chapman being hit in the face by a line drive two weeks ago.
Luckily, the ball hit Cueto in the glove hand and wrist, and after the trainer examined him, Cueto quickly went back to work.
The old adage that pitchers are ahead of hitters at the start of the season rang true.
Wainwright and Cueto spent the first six innings matching strikeouts. Each had five strikeouts through three innings and seven Ks through six.
Through six innings, the Cardinals had just two hits by Adams, who beat a Reds shift by punching the ball to the left side. The Reds had three hits (two by Frazier, one by Phillips). And neither team advanced a runner past second.
Adams singled with one out in the second, but Cueto struck out the side.
The Cardinals went down 1-2-3 in the third and fourth, then Adams doubled to start the fifth. No matter. Cueto got ground out, line out, foul pop to end the inning.
And he retired the Cards 1-2-3 in the sixth.
The Reds wasted Phillips' one-out single in the first when Votto struck out and Bruce lined out.
In the second, Frazier singled and - surprise - stole second. But Zack Cozart struck out, Wainwright gave a pass to Pena, and Cueto struck out.
Phillips walked with one out in the third, but Votto chopped the ball in front of home and it 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 Brayan 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.
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 to fly to right.
The Cardinals finished with five hits. Both Manny Parra and Logan Ondrusek allowed one in relief.