"We had the lead," manager Jerry Narron said. "But we couldn't hold it."
No, the Reds couldn't. The pitching staff wouldn't let them.
Another rough outing from right-hander Ramon Ortiz put the Reds in an early hole. He gave up consecutive home runs to Albert Pujols and Larry Walker in the first, en route to a six-inning performance in which the Cardinals scored six runs.
"Early in the game, he got the ball up," Narron said of Ortiz. "You're not going to get away with it."
In some respects, Ortiz did get away with it, though. This game easily could have developed into his 12th loss of the season, but his offense bailed him out.
With the Reds trailing 4-0 in the fifth, Austin Kearns hit a solo home run off Jason Marquis to get his team on the board. Run-scoring doubles from Chris Denorfia and Felipe Lopez later that inning made it a 4-3 game.
In the sixth, the Reds took over when Edwin Encarnacion swatted a two-run bomb off Marquis to make it 5-4.
Ortiz was out of the woods now. But he strolled right back in the bottom of the inning. He walked three consecutive batters -- Pujols, Walker and Reggie Sanders -- to load the bases, then gave up an RBI single to Mark Grudzielanek and a sacrifice fly to So Taguchi to give the Cardinals the 6-5 lead.
Back and forth it went, as Lopez tied it up in the seventh with a solo shot off Cal Eldred.
This game had become, simply, a manifestation of the troubles of this ballclub. The most productive offense in the National League is paired with a pitching staff with the NL's second-worst ERA, and games like this are often the offspring.
And this particular game became quite ugly, indeed, for the Reds in the bottom of the seventh.
Sent in to maintain that tie, hard-throwing right-hander Allan Simpson displayed his erratic tendencies. He walked Skip Schumaker and Abraham Nunez, then pegged Pujols with a fastball.
Pujols crept Simpson's way, figuring he had been hit on purpose. But one look at the situation and Simpson's walk-to-strikeout ratio would have proven otherwise.
"That was a weird situation," Simpson said. "I told him it wasn't on purpose. It was something little that looked like something big."
Several players from each bench came onto the field momentarily. But when the situation calmed down, they sat back down to watch the Reds' bullpen struggles continue.
Brian Shackelford came in with the bases loaded and hit pinch-hitter Hector Luna with a pitch to bring in the go-ahead run. Then Todd Coffey did his characteristic sprint to the mound, only to give up a two-run single to Sanders that made it 9-6.
The Reds had officially let Simpson's control problems get the best of them.
"If you have days like that, it's tough to pitch at this level," Narron said of Simpson. "We know he's got a good arm, and we believe he can help us. But it's just going to come down to him commanding his pitches."
He didn't do that on this day, and the Reds had permanently lost command. They loaded the bases against Jason Isringhausen in the ninth, but Adam Dunn watched strike three sail past him to end the Reds' sixth loss in seven days.