Beltran, Freese belt HRs as Cardinals slip past Reds 3-1

Published 2:06 am Wednesday, April 11, 2012

CINCINNATI (AP) — They lead the majors in homers. Their starting rotation is one of the NL’s best. So far, the defending World Series champion Cardinals don’t seem to miss Albert Pujols all that much.

Carlos Beltran and David Freese homered again on Tuesday night, and Kyle Lohse provided another stingy performance, leading St. Louis to a 3-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

The Cardinals are off to a 5-1 start for the first time since 2008, playing like champions in the season’s first week. No letup at all.

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“If those guys keep doing that, we’re going to have a pretty good club,” first-year manager Mike Matheny said.

Beltran, counted on to help make up for the loss of Pujols, hit his third homer off Mike Leake (0-1). Freese, the World Series MVP, added a two-run shot off Leake — also his third.

St. Louis came into the game leading the majors with nine homers. It has five in its first two games at Great American Ball Park, which is one of the majors’ most homer-friendly places.

But it’s the pitching that’s getting the most plaudits.

Lohse (2-0) has made impressive starts in Florida’s summery warmth and Cincinnati’s April chill. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of a 4-1 win in Miami last Wednesday, allowing only one run and two hits.

With temperatures in the 40s on Tuesday night, he was in control again, allowing Joey Votto’s sacrifice fly and four hits in six innings. Lohse took a little while to adjust to the vastly different conditions in his second start.

“It’s tough,” Lohse said. “You’re not going to get the same feel of the ball. You get a feel for what the ball is going to do. It was cold and a little windy.”

Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte retired the last nine batters in order, with Motte getting his second save in two chances.

The Cardinals rotation has been sensational so far, going 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA.

“Thank you!” Freese said. “It’s unbelievable. We’re going to win a ton of games when our starters are doing that.”

The Reds handed out another big contract before the game, giving second baseman Brandon Phillips a deal through 2017 worth $72.5 million. It came only five days after Votto got an additional 10 years and $225 million, looking to turn the 2010 NL Central champions into a consistent contender.

Phillips got a cramp in his left hamstring during a 7-1 loss to the Cardinals on Monday night and is expected to miss several days.

For the second game in a row, the Cardinals got to a Reds starter before he could break a sweat. They hit three homers in the first inning off Homer Bailey on Monday night.

Beltran hit Leake’s fifth pitch into the stands in right field. Leake escaped another big Cardinals first inning by getting Yadier Molina to ground into a double play with the bases loaded. Molina also grounded into a double play with two runners aboard in the eighth.

Lance Berkman, who has the most homers by a visiting player at Great American, tripled into the right-field corner in the sixth. Freese followed with his third homer, a drive that bounced off the top of the wall in right field and caromed up into the stands.

Leake thinks the Cardinals are just as formidable without Pujols, who left as a free agent for the Angels after the World Series championship.

“It’s still a difficult lineup,” Leake said. “They lost a big name, but they’re still a threat.”

Berkman left the game in the eighth with tightness in his left calf, which started bothering him after he ran out his triple.

Zack Cozart hit his second triple of the season in the bottom of the inning and scored on Votto’s sacrifice fly, making it 3-1.

NOTES: LHP Jaime Garcia starts the final game of the series for St. Louis. He’s 6-1 in his career against the Reds with a 3.13 ERA. He has given up more than three runs only once in his seven starts against Cincinnati. … RHP Johnny Cueto makes his second start for Cincinnati. He pitched seven innings in a 4-0 opening win over Miami last Thursday. … SS Rafael Furcal was out of the Cardinals’ starting lineup for the first time, getting some rest. … Reds RH reliever Nick Masset, who started the season on the 15-day DL with a sore shoulder, hasn’t started throwing yet.