ST. LOUIS (AP)—Larry Walker dreaded the cortisone shot to his ailing neck, the long needle drilling into his spine from a spot near the collarbone.
He loved the results.
Fortified by the shot two days earlier, Walker returned to the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup after a five-game absence Wednesday night and hit two-run homers his first two times up in an 11-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
“It was just good to be back in the lineup after sitting and watching a lot of the games,” Walker said. “I was happy to be out there and was just fortunate to be able to contribute.”
Matt Morris worked seven sharp innings, rebounding from his only loss of the year after an 8-0 start, to help the Cardinals win for the fourth time in five games. The NL Central leaders, who also got homers from Reggie Sanders and Jim Edmonds, are 21-8 against the Reds since the start of 2004.
At 49-28, they’re 21 games above .500 for the second time this season.
“It was very frustrating and boring sitting on the bench watching,” Walker said. “The bright side, which I always try to look for, is this is a pretty amazing team.”
Cincinnati’s Wily Mo Pena hit a home run estimated at 492 feet, the 10th-longest at Busch Stadium since measuring began in 1988 and the longest by an opponent. Of the nine longest long balls, Mark McGwire hit seven and J.D. Drew two.
The Reds have lost four straight after winning their first three under interim manager Jerry Narron. They’ve dropped 16 of 18 on the road.
Shortstop Felipe Lopez committed two errors in the Cardinals’ four-run second, contributing to two unearned runs. In a span of three batters, Lopez had a wild throw to first on Scott Rolen’s grounder and flipped wide of second base on a would-be forceout on Yadier Molina’s grounder, giving him seven errors in 63 games.
“Felipe has done a great job for us all year,” Narron said. “He’ll probably play the rest of his career for us, do an outstanding job, and never have an inning like that.”
Walker, a former NL MVP and three-time batting champion, had missed the previous five starts with a herniated disc in his neck that has bothered him much of the year. He had the 30th multihomer game of his career and second this season, with both homers coming off Ramon Ortiz (3-6). Walker had no plays in right field before leaving for a pinch hitter in the seventh.
“If he gets it going, you’re talking about a lot of damage added to our lineup,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Watching him swing yesterday in batting practice you could tell that shot did him some good.”
Entering the game, Walker had been 1-for-6 against Ortiz with three strikeouts.
Morris (9-1) gave up two runs and five hits. He had lasted a season-low three innings in his previous start, against the Pirates.
Morris has made 17 career appearances against the Reds, all but two at home. The only scoring off him was Pena’s 10th homer, a two-run drive off the center-field backdrop in the second.
An extra day off allowed Morris to throw a bullpen session and get back to basics.
“I made a conscious effort to get my sinker going,” Morris said. “I was just trying to extend and get good action on my sinker and let it work for me, and not try to cut the ball too much. Get back to my old power game.”
For the third time in 13 starts, Ortiz failed to get an out in the third inning. After beating the Cardinals in his previous outing in Cincinnati with seven strong innings, Ortiz gave up six runs—four earned—and four hits in a two-inning stint that matched his shortest this season.
Sanders hit his 17th homer in the fifth off Ricky Stone, and Edmonds hit his 15th, a three-run shot in the sixth.
Adam Dunn had a ninth-inning sacrifice fly, his first since July 22, 2003, against Milwaukee, a string of 1,086 plate appearances and 66 opportunities with a runner on third and less than two outs.
“It was better than any home run I’ve ever hit,” a relieved Dunn said.
Cardinals starters lead the major leagues with 44 victories. … Albert Pujols was 1-for-5, and is 17-for-42 (.405). … Sanders also doubled and is batting .389 (28-for-72) in his last 20 starts with seven homers and 17 RBIs. He has five homers and 13 RBIs against the Reds. … The Cardinals have outscored the opposition 114-74 in the first two innings. … Pena’s homer was his first since June 17. … Of Morris’ 96 pitches, 71 were strikes.