CINCINNATI — Brandon Phillips opened his mouth.
St. Louis shut it.
"It's all in the past now," said the Cincinnati second baseman Wednesday afternoon inside his team's quiet clubhouse. "It's all about wins and losses. What happened in the past is in the past, and it's all about the Cincinnati Reds."
He's right on two counts. It's all about wins and losses. And it's all about the Reds. Or at least this three-game stint with the St. Louis Cardinals was all about these young Reds, and about whether they were really a big-time team that could handle a big-time series against a perennial pennant contender.
Turns out, they couldn't. St. Louis won Monday night 7-3, Tuesday night 8-4, then swept the set with a 6-1 win on Wednesday. Three up, three down. St. Louis arrived trailing Cincinnati by two games. Tony La Russa's club departed the Queen City with a one-game lead.
The Reds, the team that had not been in this situation before, acted like a team that had not been in this situation before.
Starting with Phillips, the All-Star second baseman who was tripped up by his own tongue. Monday, before St. Louis' win, Phillips opened his mouth. He wasn't prompted. He just opened and spewed.
Phillips said he hated the Cardinals. He called them names. He called them names with the adjective "whiney" used in front of those names. He hadn't played in the series finale Sunday against the Cubs after fouling a ball off his shin, but he said he would play on one leg if he had to against the Cardinals.
Then Tuesday night, as the Reds' leadoff hitter, Phillips came to home plate and, as he usually does, tapped his bat against the catcher's shin guard.
Yadier Molina is the St. Louis catcher. He didn't take well to the love tap. If Phillips meant "it's all good" by his gesture, it wasn't all good. A scuffle broke out. Then when order was restored, the Cardinals went about the real whipping.
Seems Phillips motivated the wrong team.
Pitching was the difference. The St. Louis ace, Chris Carpenter, mowed down the Reds on Monday. Jaime Garcia pitched just well enough to win on Tuesday.
Then Wednesday, Adam Wainwright allowed just two hits in seven innings, before a 46-minute rain delay ended his day. No matter. Colby Rasmus hit his first career grand slam, and on his birthday, no less. Wainwright recorded his 17th win.
In three games, the Reds managed all of nine hits against the trio of St. Louis starters.
Question: What effect will the sweep have on the young team that just got swept?
"I don't think you have to do anything in here," said Manager Dusty Baker. "I can't control what goes on out there."
"We have a well-timed off day right now," said third baseman Scott Rolen, the 35-year-old veteran. "We can relax, rest a little bit and come back and keep playing. We've been a game-up, a game-down all year."
True. But this was the Reds' first matchup with St. Louis since June 2. They entered having won six straight series. They were 16 games over .500 for the first time since 1999. They were coming off a three-game sweep of Chicago in Wrigley where the Reds outscored the Cubs 18-7. Three days later, they had been outscored 21-8.
"They really hurt our batting averages," Baker said.
In 10 at-bats, Rolen didn't produce a hit in the three games. Paul Janish was 1-for-11. Jonny Gomes was 1-for-8. Playing on two legs, Phillips was 2-for-14.
"To tell you the truth, what happened in the past is in the past," Phillips said afterward. "That's basically it. It is what it is. People get excited. We battled for first place, and that's what it's about."
No longer are the Reds in first place. If this series was a learning experience for a young team, now they must learn how to get back to the top.
Tip: Let your play do your talking.