Stephenson returns from three-month layoff


CINCINNATI (AP) -- Garrett Stephenson was nervous, uncomfortable and exceedingly lucky in his long-awaited return.

No matter. The St. Louis Cardinals felt good just seeing him on the mound again.

Stephenson returned from a three-month layoff by throwing four shutout innings, and pinch-hitter Kerry Robinson had a three-run double in a 9-2 victory Wednesday night over the Cincinnati Reds.

"I'm happy,'' said Stephenson, who pulled his hamstring May 29 and needed surgery. "It's the first time I'm 100 percent in a while, which is the main thing. I battled to keep a 3-0 lead through four innings. I'm grateful for my defense.''

Miguel Cairo made the best defensive play of the game, slamming into the left-field wall to rob Ken Griffey Jr. of a hit. Cairo also had three hits, including an RBI double off Shawn Estes (4-11).

Robinson's bases-loaded double eluded a diving Griffey in center and completed a six-run eighth inning that drew jeers and catcalls.

Manager Bob Boone called one of his rare postgame meetings after the Reds fell two games under .500 for the first time this season. They also slid 8 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, matching their biggest deficit.

"He was disappointed in how we played the last couple of games,'' reliever Jose Rijo said. "If you're asking me, I think he should be disappointed with how we played the whole second half.

"He said were trying too hard, batters are swinging too hard, and pitchers are trying to throw a complete game with one pitch.''

Only 17,554 fans showed up for what could have been the second-to-last game at Cinergy Field, should players strike Friday. There were several angry banners, including one that read, ''3 Strikes You're Out, Go Bengals!''

Cinergy is scheduled to be torn down after the season, making way for a new ballpark beyond the left-field wall.

A day after Chuck Finley shut the Reds out with a two-hitter, Stephenson, Steve Kline (2-1) and four more relievers limited them to six hits. Griffey's run-scoring groundout in the seventh ended Cincinnati's streak at 21 innings without a run.

The Cardinals got closer to full strength with Stephenson's
return. He gave up two singles in four innings, but walked three
and hit Jason LaRue and Todd Walker, drawing a warning from plate
umpire Derryl Cousins.

Five of the Reds' first 10 outs off Stephenson were flyballs
caught on the warning track. Cairo slammed into the wall to rob
Griffey in the third.

"Just getting back into a big league game is different,'' Stephenson said. "I was a little more excited than usual tonight. I did everything wrong.''

Just having him back was a boost for the Cardinals, who lead the second-place Astros by 3{ games.

"You feel confidence now,'' Kline said. "You know he's only going to give up two or three runs a game, and you can battle and win those games.''

Cincinnati led the NL Central for 51 days earlier in the season, and traded for three starters in hopes of a playoff run. It hasn't worked out. Ryan Dempster, Brian Moehler and Estes have gone 4-10 with a 6.71 ERA in 19 games.

Estes, acquired from the Mets for minor leaguers on Aug. 15, once again lost a game because he lost his control in one inning. The left-hander is 0-2 in three starts for the Reds.

Estes gave up a pair of one-out walks in the fourth, and J.D.
Drew singled for a 1-0 lead. Cairo doubled to left for another run,
but Drew was thrown out at home as he tried to score from first.
Mike DiFelice drove in Cairo with a single.

"It seems like one inning is determining our winning or losing,'' Estes said. "I walked a couple of guys and they came back to score, which usually happens -- especially to me.''

The Cardinals sent 10 batters to the plate in the eighth, when
the Reds went through three relievers. Left-hander Gabe White
hobbled off the field after pulling groin muscles on a pitch, and
went on the 15-day disabled list after the game.

Game notes
The Cardinals return to Chicago on Thursday for the first time since pitcher Darryl Kile died in a hotel room in June. They'll stay at a different hotel. ... LHP Jeff Fassero, who wore No. 16 in his debut with the Cardinals on Tuesday, switched to No. 13. Robinson, who had the number, switched to zero. ... Tony La Russa got his 1,900th win as manager, two behind Gene Mauch for ninth on the career list. ... Moehler went on the 15-day DL with a weak shoulder. RHP Chris Reitsma was recalled from the minors. ... Reds SS Barry Larkin had a throwing error, his first since July 3.
The 42-game stretch without an error was the longest of his career.