Tony La Russa guessed right, saving his starting pitcher for after a lengthy rain delay. Then it was up to Kyle McClellan.
McClellan worked six-plus innings after substitute starter Miguel Batista had time to throw only six pitches in a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.
"That was the risk," La Russa said. "There was a strong chance there was going to be rain and I didn't want to blow Kyle out. The forecasts were flying fast and furious."
Albert Pujols had two RBIs and Ryan Theriot had three hits and scored twice for the Cardinals against a collection of relievers for the Reds, who burned ace Edinson Volquez after pre-game warmups were followed by a delay of 2 hours and 10 minutes and ended up with Matt Maloney (0-1) as a substitute starter.
"I'm going to give the Cardinals two thumbs up for what they did," the Reds' Brandon Phillips said. "They changed their pitcher on us at the last minute, that was a very smart thing to do.
"The next thing you know they brought in their starter who was going to start the game, and he was fresh."
Reds manager Dusty Baker thought the forecast was favorable to play much longer. He said Volquez perhaps could start Sunday night in the series finale.
"The information we received was probably not the same information they received," Baker said. "We probably shouldn't have started in the first place. We thought there was going to be a window of opportunity."
Batista opened with a four-pitch walk to Drew Stubbs and threw two more pitches to Phillips before a fierce storm prompted tornado warning sirens at least three times brought the game to a halt.
"It was bad. They put me out of the game and I was throwing a no-no," Batista joked.
Phillips homered and Stubbs had two hits and a steal for the Reds, who have lost seven of nine and fell a game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central while dropping out of first place for the first time. Phillips was booed mercilessly before each at-bat and pumped his fist in triumph after singling in the third, but kept his head down while sprinting around the bases after his second homer in the fifth.
Phillips joked he'd changed his name to "Boo."
"They were just calling my name. I feel like I was back at home," Phillips said. "The fans, they love me here."
Maloney faced 15 hitters in two-plus innings in his first start since July 11, 2010, at Philadelphia. He gave up eight hits and a walk, but left trailing only 3-0 because of some key outs, striking out Yadier Molina with the bases loaded to end the first and stranding two more runners in the second when Matt Holliday popped to center for the third out.
The Reds were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position against McClellan (3-0), who allowed two runs while scattering seven hits and two walks. This was technically the longest career relief outing for McClellan, a setup man last season who has held opponents to only three hits in 29 at-bats with runners in scoring position for the season.
"I think they did a good job figuring out the weather conditions," McClellan said. "I'm not a very patient person so it was a little difficult but not too much different than what I've done in the past.
"I just waited until they said the game starts in 20 minutes, it doesn't take me that long."
Mitchell Boggs got the last four outs for his second save in two chances, finishing against the top of the Reds' order. Cincinnati had two men on with two outs in the eighth when catcher Molina caught Chris Heisey straying well off first with a pickoff throw, ending up with a tag-out of Miguel Cairo at third.
"We made a couple mistakes, a couple big mistakes, a couple young mistakes," Baker said.
Rookie Eduardo Sanchez relieved McClellan with two on and no outs in the seventh and threw two wild pitches with a walk, but allowed only Jonny Gomes' sacrifice fly.
The Reds threw out two Cardinals on the basepaths in the fifth, with right fielder Jay Bruce's perfect relay nipping Holliday at third and catcher Ramon Hernandez easily getting Molina trying to steal to end the inning.
NOTES: RHP Jake Westbrook, 1-2 with a 9.82 ERA after four starts, is set to pitch on three days' rest Sunday night for the Cardinals. Westbrook gave up seven runs in three innings, his shortest outing since May 2, 2007, in a loss to Nationals on Wednesday. ... Reds RHP Johnny Cueto (biceps-triceps) struggled in his second rehab appearance for Triple-A Louisville on Thursday, allowing eight runs - five earned - on nine hits in 1 2-3 innings. Cueto is scheduled for another rehab start Tuesday. ... The Reds have allowed a major league-high 24 runs in the first inning, giving up 11 the last six games with at least one each game.