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STL@CIN: Jay blasts a two-run shot to center

CINCINNATI -- Despite a loss to the Reds in the finale of a three-game series on Wednesday, the Cardinals are finally heading home, with momentum and confidence in tow.

"You want to win them all," David Freese said. "But we're jacked up that we're 5-2. I think winning the series is ultimately what matters. We're headed back home. It's a good start."

On a brisk afternoon at Great American Ball Park, Jon Jay hit a two-run home run to provide some early run support for starting pitcher Jaime Garcia, but the Reds came from behind for a 4-3 walk-off win on Chris Heisey's pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth.

"I thought we had a good chance to win this one," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "It was a good road trip overall. I might feel better about it if you ask me in a few minutes. I'm fresh off losing one in the bottom of the ninth."

The score was tied at 3 when Joey Votto led off the bottom of the ninth with a double against Cards reliever Marc Rzepczynski. Former Cardinal Ryan Ludwick was intentionally walked. Rzepczynski (0-1) struck out Jay Bruce, then Heisey singled on an 0-1 pitch from Fernando Salas to drive home the winning run.

"Right off the bat, I could see it going towards the gap," Heisey said. "It was a good feeling to get that barrel on one and, obviously, to help win the game."

St. Louis has an off-day before what is expected to be an emotional Opening Day at Busch Stadium on Friday afternoon against the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals' 5-1 start to the road trip was their best since 1931.

Matheny calls Garcia a "feel" pitcher, and it didn't take long to deduce that the left-hander was going to have a rocky afternoon.

"You could tell early that he was fighting himself," Matheny said. "It was going to be one where he was going to have to grind it out."

Garcia allowed three hits in the second inning, but a double play and inning-ending groundout by Johnny Cueto prevented the Reds from scoring.

Garcia had dominated Cincinnati, going 6-1 in 11 previous career appearances, including nine starts. Garcia allowed more than three runs to the Reds just once, on Aug. 10, 2010, and he won that game. His six wins over Cincinnati are second only to Chris Carpenter over the past two seasons.

Just as they did in the first two games of the series, the Cardinals scored first.

Garcia worked the count full against Cueto before hitting a single to right with two out in the third. Rafael Furcal tripled into the right-field corner, and Garcia scored from first to put the Cardinals ahead, 1-0.

Jay followed with his first home run of the season, which barely eluded Drew Stubbs' reach over the center-field-wall to make the score, 3-0.

"The Cardinals played very well this series and are a very good team," Votto said. "They won the World Series last year, so we've got a lot of work ahead of us. They're certainly going to be in the way."

Stubbs and Zack Cozart greeted Garcia with consecutive singles to begin the third. Votto doubled off the wall in left, and Stubbs scored the Reds' first run. But Garcia retired the next three batters to strand runners on second and third.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Cozart became the first Reds rookie to hit safely in each of the team's first six games since Frankie Baumholtz did it in 1947.

Garcia recorded the 300th strikeout of his career when he fanned Ludwick in the third.

Quality at-bats by the Cardinals up and down the lineup helped push Cueto's pitch count to 91 through five innings.

"Cueto's no walk in the park," Matheny said. "Overall, we put in some pretty good at-bats against him."

Bruce's sacrifice fly to center made the score 3-2 in the fifth.

"That's a good offense over there," Matheny said. "If you make mistakes, they can make you pay."

Wilson Valdez's second consecutive bunt single drove in Votto from third to tie the score at 3, and bring an end to Garcia's afternoon.

"Two bunts, same spot," Matheny said. "One of them really hurt us. The second one shouldn't have surprised us. You know they're going to capitalize on that we if don't make the play."

Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman (1-0) struck out five Cardinals in two innings, including Freese, who pinch-hit in the ninth. That ended Freese's 11-game hitting streak dating to Sept. 24, 2011.

Three innings of solid relief work by Victor Marte and Kyle McClellan kept the score tied entering the ninth before the Reds rallied. Comments