Daniel Poncedeleon wasn't going to let a sore neck ruin his major league debut, not after all he's come through in the last year. The Cardinals' determined rookie shook it off and made St. Louis history.
Poncedeleon was sensational 14 months after suffering a severe head injury, throwing no-hit ball for seven innings Monday night before Eugenio Suarez led the Cincinnati Reds' rally in the ninth for a 2-1 victory.
The 26-year-old right-hander was hit on the right temple by a line drive while pitching for Triple-A Memphis on May 9 last year, fracturing his skull and causing bleeding in the brain. He had emergency surgery followed by months of slow recovery.
Poncedeleon was one of the top pitchers in the Pacific Coast League when St. Louis called him up Monday to help their injury-depleted rotation. With 10 family members cheering from the stands, he walked three and struck out three , threw 116 pitches and gave way to a pinch-hitter in the eighth with St. Louis up 1-0.
"I don't know if words can describe that," interim manager Mike Shildt said. "It's what's magical about this game and what we love about this game — stories like that."
Poncedeleon prayed for calmness before his debut, went to the bullpen to warm up and hurt his neck on one pitch.
"I tweaked my neck in the bullpen and had a hard time looking toward home plate," he said. "I was a little nervous then."
The neck was fine once the game began. Poncedeleon joined the Dodgers' Ross Stripling as the only major leaguers to throw at least seven no-hit innings in their debuts since 1908.
Given his high pitch count, Shildt had no thought about leaving him in.
"We weren't in a situation where he would have been able to finish that game with a no-hitter," Shildt said. "It was his time."
Jordan Hicks gave up a one-out single up the middle by pinch-hitter Phillip Ervin in the eighth for Cincinnati's first hit.
Suarez's two-out, solo homer off Bud Norris (3-3) tied it 1-1. The closer then loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a walk, and pinch-hitter Dilson Herrera singled to end the Reds' losing streak at four games. Jared Hughes (3-3) pitched the ninth.
"We don't mind waiting until there two outs in the ninth to score some runs," said Tucker Barnhart, who singled to help load the bases. "It makes it a little nerve-wracking on the bench."
Matt Carpenter had a pair of hits that extended his streak, including a double in the fifth inning off Luis Castillo. Yadier Molina followed with a single for his 17th RBI against the Reds this season, the most by any major league player against Cincinnati.
Carpenter homered in six straight games last week, a streak that ended on Sunday. He's 14 for 28 in the last eight games.
IN THE INTERIM ...
The Cardinals are 3-4 under Shildt. The Reds are 41-41 under interim manager Jim Riggleman.
Tommy Pham was thrown out while trying to stretch a leadoff hit into a triple in the seventh inning. Umpire Quinn Wolcott called Pham safe, but the replay indicated he came off the base briefly while being tagged.
The Cardinals plan to start three rookies in the series, the first time they've had three rookies start in a row since September 1997 when Mike Busby, Matt Morris and Manny Aybar pitched against the Cubs. The last time they had three straight rookie starters before September was in August 1959, when Bob Gibson, Ernie Broglio and Marshall Bridges faced the Phillies, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Cardinals: Infielder Kolten Wong went on the 10-day DL with a sore left knee, opening a roster spot for Poncedeleon.
Cardinals: LH Austin Gomber (0-0) makes his first major league start after 15 relief appearances this season, including two against the Reds.