ST. LOUIS -- Fitting it was that on a night when the Cardinals couldn't muster a hit with a runner in scoring position, they'd celebrate a walk-off win without recording a hit in the decisive 10th inning.
Three walks, one intentional, set the stage for Matt Carpenter to add another wrinkle to his storybook season start. His bases-loaded sacrifice fly did the job, lifting the Cardinals to a 2-1 win over the Reds on Tuesday night.
The win, which came in front of 35,562 at Busch Stadium, ended a night in which the Cardinals went hitless in nine chances with runners in scoring position.
"It's one of those situations that, as a hitter, you dream of to win a game," Carpenter said. "Coming off the bench like that in that situation with the bases loaded is a lot of fun. It's a lot more fun when you pull it off."
David Freese drew a walk to start the inning. Tyler Greene took his place as a pinch-runner and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. After Jon Jay was walked intentionally, Daniel Descalso, whose defensive miscue in the eighth opened the door for the Reds to tie the game, came to the plate.
He drew a seven-pitch walk off lefty Bill Bray to load the bases.
"You don't want to be the one who blows it for your team," Descalso said afterward.
The next decision required little thought for manager Mike Matheny, with pitcher Jason Motte due up. He ignored any hesitation about a lefty-on-lefty matchup and sent Carpenter to the plate. Not only had Carpenter hit lefties well in the Minors, but he was the obvious hot hand.
"It doesn't take a genius to watch what a guy did [Sunday]," Matheny said, referring to Carpenter's four-hit, five-RBI performance.
Carpenter worked the count full after falling behind 1-2, then hit a ball deep enough to right that Greene could score.
Said Reds manager Dusty Baker: "You can only get out of trouble so many times."
Carpenter's game-winning sac fly came in his first career plate appearance against Bray. It also ended an otherwise frustrating night for the Cards' offense, which gave the Reds ample opportunity to steal a series-opening win.
St. Louis stranded eight and went hitless in seven chances with runners in scoring position in the first four innings. The team's only run off Reds starter Johnny Cueto came via Carlos Beltran's first-inning homer.
After tiptoeing around additional trouble, Cueto settled in and allowed only one baserunner in the final three frames of his seven-inning start.
Those missed early chances were further exposed when the some sloppy eighth-inning defense erased St. Louis' one-run lead and foiled Kyle Lohse's opportunity to join Phillies starter Roy Halladay as the NL's only three-game winners. Lohse protected a 1-0 lead through the seventh, before Matheny turned to Mitchell Boggs in the eighth.
Had any consideration been given to letting Lohse, with a pitch count of 90, stay in to start the eighth?
"Yeah," Matheny said. "Especially after the fact."
That's because Lohse's win fell into immediate jeopardy with a pair of defensive blunders. Ryan Hanigan's grounder went between the legs of Descalso at second base to allow the leadoff hitter to reach. Boggs then bobbled a sacrifice bunt attempt to add a second runner to the basepaths.
After a double play erased the runner at first, Boggs gave up a game-tying RBI single to Reds shortstop Zack Cozart.
"I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our bullpen right now, just like I will [on Wednesday]," Matheny said. "At that point, I felt we were in really good hands. In hindsight, absolutely I would like to put [Lohse back] out there."
Still, the Cards had an opportune chance to close out the game without needing extra frames. With runners on the corners and one out in the ninth, Baker opted to intentionally walk Beltran. The move proved wise, as reliever Logan Ondrusek wiggled out of trouble by inducing popups from Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman.
Amid the offensive deficiencies, Lohse kept the Cards in control with his third straight strong start. He has allowed just two runs in 20 1/3 innings.
"He's been throwing the ball as well as I've seen him," said Baker, whose club also lost to Lohse last week.
In addition to giving St. Louis the early with his bat, Beltran aided Lohse with his first outfield assist of the year. Erasing any lingering concerns that Sunday's plunking would affect his arm strength, Beltran threw out Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs, who was trying to advance from first to third on Hanigan's single in the third.
The Reds were none too pleased by the call, and Baker ensured that third-base umpire Larry Vanover knew as much. Baker's argument was backed up by video evidence, too.
Cincinnati moved only one other runner into scoring position over Lohse's final four innings. Lohse retired nine straight during one stretch and finished with a season-high six strikeouts. Three of those came in succession after the first two hitters in the fourth reached.
"It was a good night again where I was locating my stuff," Lohse said. "It's not normal for me to strike out three in a row, but I was really hitting my spots. It was good to keep it at no runs and keep the lead."
With the win, the Cardinals maintained their three-game division lead over the Brewers. The Reds, who have lost three of four to St. Louis this month, sit four games back.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.