CINCINNATI -- Mike Leake never pitched in front 40,000 fans at Arizona State, but did it faze him when he did just that for the Reds on Saturday? No chance. Not this cool customer. Leake pitched six strong innings and got some help during a 4-3 win over the Cardinals before 41,326 at the Civil Rights Game. Always confident, but in constant control of his emotions and pitches, the 5-foot-10 Leake still came into the night thinking big.
"Today was a little better, because I hadn't pitched against the Cardinals. I had only watched them on TV," Leake said. "It was a good atmosphere for later in the season if we get to the postseason. It's kind of a little preview of what it would be like." Drew Stubbs' two-run triple in the sixth inning broke a 2-2 tie, but it took a fine relay throw to the plate to prevent the tying run from scoring in the top of the ninth. Francisco Cordero was protecting a two-run lead in the ninth when he gave up two singles and a wild pitch for one run. Pinch-hitter Joe Mather then lined a double to the left-field corner, where Chris Heisey made an off-line, but successful, relay throw to shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who threw a one-hopper to Ramon Hernandez at the plate. Hernandez had to reach to apply the game-ending tag just as Schumaker slid into home plate. "I don't want to blow a game like that," said Cordero, who got his 12th save. "I'm happy that we got the out at home and got to go home happy." It made a winner of Leake, who improved to 4-0 with another quality start while besting tough Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. The 22-year-old Leake gave up two earned runs and four hits over six innings with three walks and five strikeouts. He is the first Reds pitcher to begin his big league career 4-0 since Santo Alcala and Pat Zachary both did it in 1976. Leake, who has a 3.09 ERA, has been a steadily growing sensation since making the Reds out of Spring Training. He has been the club's best starter and has made the team look well beyond the fact that the 2009 first-round Draft pick had no Minor League experience. "I'm past being surprised. Just do your thing," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. Leake's sixth quality start in seven career professional games kept the same running theme as the previous ones. There were no frills with his 97 pitches, as he moved quickly, threw strikes and let the Cardinals put the ball in play. In the top of the first inning, Leake threw 10 pitches, eight for strikes, and his first encounter with Albert Pujols proved rather benign. Pujols blooped a two-out single to right-center field but was left stranded. He was walked with one out in the third inning and intentionally walked with a runner on second and two outs in the fifth. "He's a crafty pitcher," Schumaker said. "He kept the ball down, he used all his pitches and he was very effective because he changed speeds. When he had to, he made pitches to get out of the inning. There's a reason why he skipped the Minor Leagues. He was around the plate, he threw strikes with all his pitches and he was effective. " St. Louis took a 1-0 lead in the second when David Freese hit a leadoff double and later scored on a sacrifice fly. Hernandez's two-out RBI single on the ground to left field tied the game in the bottom of the second. With one out in the third, Colby Rasmus put the Cardinals back on top with a solo homer to straightaway center field. "Fortunately, I threw only one mistake today. It was a good outing," Leake said. "I started quick and in the middle hit a rut. I had to change something. I think I needed to switch up my first pitch. I was getting too happy with the first-pitch fastball and they were being a little more aggressive or I wasn't throwing it for a strike." Wainwright (5-2) gave up four earned runs in his six innings, the first time in eight starts this season he allowed more than three runs in a game. Jonny Gomes answered the Rasmus long ball in the fourth with a 433-foot blast of his own into the left-field bleachers for a solo homer. It was a 2-2 game in the bottom of the sixth with two outs and a runner on second base when Wainwright intentionally walked Gomes to face Stubbs, who entered the night batting .198. Stubbs laid off a pair of two-strike breaking balls then smoked a drive to the wall in right-center field that scored both runners. The Reds moved to a half-game behind the Cardinals and will be playing again for the first place during the series rubber game on Sunday.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.