CINCINNATI -- Jason Marquis made sure the St. Louis Cardinals wouldn't need another historic comeback.
The right-hander gave up only three hits while taking a shutout into the ninth inning on Tuesday night, and the St. Louis Cardinals' depleted bullpen held on for a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
A day after they pulled off the biggest ninth-inning comeback in their history -- seven runs for a 10-9 win -- the Cardinals relied on a few well-placed hits and impeccable pitching to win another.
"We've got some superstars and some guys who know how to play the game the right way," said Marquis, who also had a couple of hits.
St. Louis has the NL's best record at 17-8, getting off to a fast start after getting swept by Boston in the World Series last year. The Cardinals' lead in the NL Central is up to five games, the biggest so far.
"We've been in a lot of tough games that have come our way," manager Tony La Russa said.
Nothing is going Cincinnati's way. The Reds have lost a season-high six straight, falling 7½ games behind the Cardinals, the one team they can't seem to beat.
"It's all too familiar," said reliever Joe Valentine, who gave up a pair of runs in the eighth, his fourth straight subpar appearance. "The last week has been the roughest part of my career, and to go along with the roughest part of our season as a team."
Marquis (4-1) allowed three singles before turning it over to a bullpen trying to get by while closer Jason Isringhausen recovers from strained muscles in his side.
Ray King let in the first run with a throwing error, Julian Tavarez struck out Austin Kearns for the first out, and left-hander Randy Flores gave up Joe Randa's sacrifice fly with the bases loaded. Finally, Al Reyes - the fourth Cardinals pitcher of the inning - retired D'Angelo Jimenez on a routine fly, getting his second save in two chances.
Marquis threw 115 pitches, and La Russa decided he'd had enough after Ryan Freel opened the ninth with a single. Marquis hasn't thrown a complete game in 78 career starts.
"I would like to finish a game, obviously," Marquis said. "It's a long season. I'd like to throw a complete game in September."
Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek made the game's best defensive play, darting behind second base to catch Kearns' grounder in the seventh, then coming to a sliding halt before throwing him out.
"I got great help from my defense," said Marquis, who walked three and struck out two. "My defense got me through the first couple of innings, and I was able to settle down."
Abraham Nunez had an RBI single and a solo homer, and Reggie Sanders got his 1,500th career hit and 300th career double while sending the Reds to another loss in their lopsided series. The Reds are 6-17 against St. Louis over the last two seasons.
Sanders knew he was coming up on a personal milestone, but was afraid to ask what it was.
"I said I didn't want to know about it," Sanders said. "I didn't want the pressure on me. I knew something was going on, but I didn't know exactly what."
When they arrived at the ballpark on Tuesday, the Reds were still feeling the sting of their biggest ninth-inning collapse since 1952. Manager Dave Miley acknowledged he had barely slept -- instead, he sat and stared at a television set that he never turned on.
There weren't many highlights in the second game of the series, and all of them belonged to St. Louis.
Aaron Harang (1-2) gave up two runs and six hits in seven innings, including a pair of perfectly placed RBI singles. Albert Pujols singled in the fourth, extending his hitting streak to 14 games, then stole second and scored on Sanders' soft single to left field.
In the fifth, David Eckstein doubled with two outs and came around when Nunez slapped an ankle-high breaking ball into center.
St. Louis then pulled away against a foundering bullpen, which has given up 20 runs in its last 13 1/3 innings. Nunez hit the first pitch from Valentine for his second homer in the eighth, and Sanders had his RBI double later in the inning.
- 3B Scott Rolen missed a second consecutive game with a sore back, hurt on a swing last Sunday.
- Pujols has hit safely in 66 of his 75 career games against the Reds.
- Marquis had a single and double in four at-bats, leaving him 5-for-15 this season with three RBI. Marquis is 7-for-16 career against the Reds (.438) with five RBI.
- Reds 1B Sean Casey extended his hitting streak to 12 games, and Ken Griffey Jr. pushed his to nine games.