The St. Louis Cardinals are off to a good start on a challenging road trip.
Allen Craig 's three-run homer highlighted a six-run sixth inning that helped St. Louis (69-56) overcome a 5-2 deficit and snap a four-game skid versus Cincinnati with an 8-5 victory Friday.
"Without question, one of those character wins," manager Mike Matheny said. "It says a lot about this team. We'll have to be that kind of team the rest of the way."
It certainly was an ideal way for the Cardinals to open a 10-game trip that continues in Pittsburgh and ends at NL-leading Washington. The victory cut the Reds' division lead over St. Louis to six games, and the Cardinals own the second wild-card spot in the NL.
"A really big game for us to start the road trip against our top competitor and get a victory," said Craig, who is batting .434 (23 for 53) with two homers and nine RBIs during a 13-game hitting streak.
Yadier Molina , who followed Craig's homer with a solo shot, is 14 for 25 (.560) with seven RBIs in his last six games. He has homered in each of his last three games versus Cincinnati and is batting .444 (12 for 27) with four home runs and seven RBIs in seven contests at Great American Ball Park in 2012.
The Cardinals have hit .373 while scoring 32 runs during their four-game winning streak. They last won five in a row June 22-26.
Garcia (3-4, 4.00 ERA) is 7-1 with a 2.78 ERA in nine starts against the Reds (76-51), going 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA in two outings this season.
In his first start after missing more than two months with a sprained shoulder, the left-hander gave up two runs and struck out a season-high 10 in eight innings of a 6-3, 19-inning loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"When something physical is not right, you can't really be yourself," Garcia told the Cardinals' official website. "I feel like a different guy."
Todd Frazier , 1 for 2 versus Garcia, had three hits Friday for the Reds, who have lost two straight and four of seven.
"We have an opportunity to put them back where they were (Saturday)," manager Dusty Baker said. "This is a big game for us. We'll be better rested."
Earning more playing time in place of injured star Joey Votto , Frazier is batting .466 with five homers and 17 RBIs in his last 16 games.
Cincinnati's Mike Leake (5-8, 4.59) takes the mound trying to bounce back after he allowed a season-high seven runs and 10 hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 12-5 loss at Philadelphia on Monday.
"Leake couldn't get the ball down," Baker said. "There were too many pitches up in the zone."
The right-hander has struggled with that same problem at times while giving up three homers and going 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts versus St. Louis this season.
He is 1-2 with a 5.24 ERA in five appearances - four starts - against the Cardinals, all at Great American Ball Park.
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|August 21, 2012||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Right hand injury|
|August 16, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Back stiffness|
|August 08, 2012||Allen Craig||Day-to-Day||Sore ribs|
|August 03, 2012||Lance Berkman||15-Day DL||Right knee inflammation|
|July 28, 2012||Rafael Furcal||Day-to-Day||Stiff back|
|July 26, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Left game - right calf cramp|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|August 01, 2012||Wilson Valdez||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff neck|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|July 31, 2012||Brandon Phillips||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left calf|
|July 31, 2012||Bill Bray||15-Day DL||Lumbar muscle strain|
|July 16, 2012||Joey Votto||Day-to-Day||Torn meniscus, left knee - out 3-4 weeks|
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Brandon Phillips ' day started with a thrill. Then it got better.
Phillips caught the ceremonial first pitch thrown by Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin , then collected three hits to lead the Cincinnati Reds to an 8-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.
"Catching my favorite player's first pitch was an honor," Phillips said about Larkin, who had his No. 11 retired during a pregame ceremony.
Phillips then did a pretty good imitation of the 1995 NL MVP, hitting his first home run in August as the Reds strengthened their hold on the top spot in the NL Central.
Mike Leake pitched effectively into the seventh inning and Jay Bruce added a two-run homer for Cincinnati, which regained a seven-game lead over second-place St. Louis. Ryan Ludwick also had three hits.
The Cardinals rallied to win the series opener 8-5 on Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.
"They're still hungry," Phillips said. "They can hit. You look up at the scoreboard and everybody's hitting .300. I don't know who's making outs for them."
Leake (6-8) allowed at least one hit in every inning except one, but kept the Cardinals mostly at bay. Leake, who also had two hits, lasted 6 2-3 innings, allowing 10 hits and two runs.
"They were aggressive, a little more than normal," said Leake, adding that he didn't feel like he gave up 10 hits. "That shocked me. They hit a lot of ground balls. Some found holes."
Leake was never in serious trouble, manager Dusty Baker said.
"He had that at `em ball going," Baker said. "That's what happens when you throw strikes. That was the start he needed and we needed. We're trying to get him back to .500. He was masterful. We got (the Cardinals) back to where they were when they started from when they came in."
Cincinnati grabbed control with three runs in the sixth inning. Phillips led off with a double down the right-field line and advanced on Ludwick's single to right. Phillips scored when Todd Frazier beat out a potential double-play grounder, and Bruce followed with a 432-foot drive to right for his team-best 27th homer.
The Reds added four more in the seventh after Brandon Dickson retired the first two batters of the inning. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was limited after using five relievers on Friday.
"Dickson couldn't get that putaway pitch," Matheny said. "It was tough leaving him out there that long, but there were a couple guys I had to stay away from."
Phillips drove a full-count pitch just over the wall in right-center for his 14th homer and first since July 31 against San Diego. Scott Rolen 's two-run single made it 7-2, and Dioner Navarro chipped in with an RBI single that dropped into left when Matt Holliday lost the ball in the sun.
The Reds grabbed the lead in the third against Jaime Garcia , making his second start since June 5 after missing 64 games with a left shoulder strain. Leake hit a leadoff double and scored on Phillips' two-out single into right field.
The Cardinals got one hit in each of the first four innings against Leake before finally pushing across a run in the fifth. Tony Cruz , Rafael Furcal and Jon Jay singled to load the bases with one out, setting up Matt Carpenter 's tying sacrifice fly.
St. Louis added another run in the seventh when Cruz scampered home on Jay's double-play ball.
Garcia (3-5) allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. He entered with a 7-1 record and a 3.12 ERA in nine career starts and two relief appearances against the Reds.
"I felt good coming into the sixth inning," Garcia said. "I left the ball up to Phillips, and I didn't make my pitch to Luddy. The pitch to Bruce was up, and I paid the consequences."
NOTES: Matheny said RHP Joe Kelly will start on Wednesday in Pittsburgh in place of RHP Lance Lynn , who hasn't lasted more than five innings in any of his last four starts. Lynn pitched two-plus innings in St. Louis' win on Friday. ... Cardinals C Yadier Molina and 3B David Freese were out of the lineup due to injuries. Molina rolled an ankle a few days ago, Matheny said. Freese injured his left wrist fielding in a play at third base on Friday. ... Larkin was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame on July 22. ... The Great American Ball Park flags in left-center field were lowered to half-staff to honor the memory of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong passed away earlier Saturday.