Reds starter Matt Belisle (3-2) turned in an excellent performance over seven innings. All three of his runs allowed were unearned. The bullpen, which accelerated the recent slump with several rough performances, had no incriminating finger prints at the scene this time with two scoreless innings.
"We pitched well enough to win the game," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "We have to find ways to win games. Right now, it seems like we're finding ways to lose."
With two outs in the third inning, Encarnacion fielded Morgan Ensberg's routine ground ball to third base cleanly, but his throw skipped in the dirt past first baseman Scott Hatteberg for the first error.
It essentially was a gift-wrapped opportunity for Houston. The next batter was Lance Berkman, who had homers in the two previous games against the Reds. Berkman lifted a 1-0 Belisle pitch into the left-field seats for a 2-0 Astros lead. Berkman has 15 career homers at Great American Ball Park -- the most by any opposing player.
"In the first play, I had a lot of time," Encarnacion said. "It was a routine play. I don't know how I threw that ball like that."
Adam Dunn's two-run homer off Woody Williams (1-5) tied the game in the third, but Houston was handed back the lead in the fourth. Encarnacion bobbled Adam Everett's sharply hit ground ball and then airmailed his throw over Hatteberg's head for error No. 2.
"I was surprised I had that ball," Encarnacion said. "He hit it hard, and I threw with no balance."
"He had plenty of time on both of them. He just made bad throws," Narron said. "It's as simple as that."
After Humberto Quintero's intentional walk, Williams lined an RBI single to center field that scored Everett with the go-ahead run.
The Reds never recovered. After Encarnacion's infield hit in the fourth, they never collected another hit. Williams and relievers Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler retired 17 of the final 19 batters.
At 14-20, the club is at a season-high six games below .500 and 10 games behind the first-place Brewers in the National League Central. Entering the night, the Cardinals were percentage points behind the Reds, but they won their game to escape sixth place.
Belisle, who allowed six hits and one walk while striking out a career-high seven batters, was stunned when he heard radio voice Marty Brennaman mention the team's situation over the air.
"Gosh," Belisle sighed. "I'll be honest. I didn't realize that's where the standings were. I guess we have to just focus on each day going out there and taking a win and not look at the big picture. The only way we're going to gain ground is to take each day at a time and hopefully Milwaukee slows down."
The Reds were never more than seven games out of first place last season, and that didn't happen until midway through September. Only a week ago, they were in second place and one game below .500.
"We can not hang our heads," Belisle said. "It's just time to grind. Everybody knows we're a better club than what's going on."
Defensive struggles have been well-chronicled with Encarnacion and the Reds, who entered the night second in the NL in errors and second-to-last in fielding percentage.
Encarnacion committed a team-high 25 errors last season and has had trouble eliminating mistakes this season. A bad throw in a game versus the Rockies cost the Reds a run in a one-run loss on Friday. On Tuesday, with Hunter Pence on third and no outs, Encarnacion fielded a ground ball and didn't look the runner back. Pence scored easily when Encarnacion threw to first base.
It's highly likely Encarnacion won't be starting Thursday's series finale as the Reds try to avoid a sweep.
"He's out there giving us an effort," Narron said. "The one thing I've got to make sure of as the manager, I've got to put guys on the field where they can be successful. That's what I'm going to try to do."