ST. LOUIS (AP) — Getting deep into games is big for Johnny Cueto. The Cincinnati Reds' pitcher says that's all he can control.
Cueto worked his third career complete game Monday, but was a 1-0 loser to the St. Louis Cardinals and Chris Carpenter on an infield hit off the end of pinch-hitter Mark Hamilton's bat with two outs in the eighth inning.
"You hate to lose a game like that on a little jam shot squibber," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "Johnny was great."
Cueto (5-3) allowed six hits in his first appearance against the Cardinals since he spiked Chris Carpenter on the back and dealt Jason LaRue a career-ending concussion with kicks during a brawl in Cincinnati Aug. 11. Cueto and Brandon Phillips, whose bat tap to Molina's shin guard had precipitated the bench-clearing incident, were both booed at every opportunity.
"How long can you hold stuff, you know what I mean?" Baker said before the game. "There'll be some booing when they come to our place, too."
Cueto scoffed off last year's dramatics, saying through an interpreter: "That's normal. It happens between good teams."
Cueto is 3-2 in his last seven starts despite compiling a 1.42 ERA in that span, working at least seven innings every time. The Reds have two blown saves in that stretch.
Cueto hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his 11 starts this season.
"We're trying to teach him to close out games and he closed it out," Baker said. "I wasn't going to take him out. Man, he was dealing. It was going to come down to a home run or something fluky like it did."
Jon Jay robbed Jay Bruce with a leaping catch at the right field wall to end the fourth and retreated while battling the sun for another fine grab on Edgar Renteria's drive near the warning track with two men on in the seventh.
Carpenter (4-7) has won three straight starts, digging himself out of the worst hole of his career, and is 13-4 for his overall against Cincinnati. The right-hander has permitted just two runs on 18 hits in 24 innings to lower his ERA to 3.74.
Cueto had no strikeouts for only the third time in 103 career starts, two of them in St. Louis, after fanning 25 hitters his previous four outings in 28 1-3 innings. According to stats compiled by MLB.com, Cardinals batters swung and missed only four times.
"It's about getting late into the game, get seven, eight innings," Cueto said. "If I look for strikeouts, then I throw more pitches and I don't stay in the game as long."
Joey Votto had three singles and Scott Rolen singled in the first for his 2,000th hit for Cincinnati. The Reds, the highest-scoring team in the National League, managed just three runners in scoring position.
Colby Rasmus opened the eighth with his second hit and advanced when Molina converted a sacrifice after fouling off two attempts and then fouling off a two-strike pitch. Rasmus went to third on a flyout before Hamilton spun a grounder off the end of his bat that curled just inside the third base line.
Rolen made a sliding stop at third but threw just late to first as Hamilton took a curious wide turn and belatedly slid headfirst into the bag. Hamilton is 6 for 26 as a pinch hitter and this was his first RBI.
"I was playing off the line and the ball kind of squibbed over," Rolen said. "I just tried to make a play and he beat it out. So a base hit, RBI."
Fernando Salas struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 15th save in 17 chances.
Bruce foiled the Cardinals' first scoring opportunity, easily throwing out Skip Schumaker at the plate after fielding Ryan Theriot's single to end the third. Schumaker appeared to get a bad jump on the hit but was waved home by third base coach Jose Oquendo, celebrating his 48th birthday.
NOTES: The Cardinals have won just two of their last seven at home. ... The Cardinals and Reds are meeting six times in the next 10 games. ... Bruce is among the NL leaders with six assists. ... Rasmus' single in the fifth was his fourth hit in 24 at-bats and the first that was not a homer.