ST. LOUIS -- Mark Mulder ended a mostly terrible month on a positive note.
Mulder worked into the seventh inning to put a string of poor starts
behind him, and Reggie Sanders backed him with a two-run homer that
"That's what you try to do every time out there," Mulder said. "Obviously, I haven't been as successful lately, but there's ups and downs in baseball and you've got to bounce back from that."
The Cardinals have won three of four, giving them an NL-best record of 48-28. Despite matching a season low with four hits, they sent the Reds to their 15th loss in 17 road games and raised their record against the NL Central to 25-9.
Joe Randa had a first-inning RBI single for the Reds, who have lost three straight under interim manager Jerry Narron after winning their first three following the firing of Dave Miley.
In 6 1/3 innings, Mulder (9-5) gave up seven hits with five strikeouts and three walks. He minimized damage despite giving up three hits in the first and third, benefiting from two double plays.
Mulder entered 1-3 in June while allowing 20 earned runs in 20 innings, a prolonged struggle with his mechanics. In two of his four previous starts this month, the left-hander acquired to be the Cardinals' No. 1 starter didn't last long enough to qualify for a victory.
A day off gave Mulder and the rest of the rotation an extra day to prepare, and he used it to throw an extra bullpen session with pitching coach Dave Duncan.
"Sometimes we always expect, and players themselves expect, all this dramatic change and improvement, and really you just build on baby steps," manager Tony La Russa said. "Nothing works better than success because now he's a little bit more confident."
In four appearances against the Reds this season, Mulder is 2-2 with a 5.64 ERA -- two effective performances and two awful ones.
With two on in the seventh, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina picked off Rich Aurilia at first to end the inning. Molina, in his first year as a starter, has picked off seven runners and is 12-for-21 throwing out runners attempting to steal.
Aurilia didn't think he was out.
"I didn't feel like it was even close," Aurilia said. "From what I've heard, it didn't even look close. I felt like I was in there by a decent amount."
Jason Isringhausen, the Cardinals' fifth pitcher, worked the ninth for his 22nd save in 24 chances and the 199th of his career. Isringhausen blew a save in his last outing on Sunday, giving up a game-tying homer in the ninth to the Pirates' Jason Bay in a 5-4, 10-inning loss.
Sanders, batting cleanup instead of Jim Edmonds against left-hander Brandon Claussen (4-5), hit his 16th homer and second in two games after Albert Pujols singled with two outs in the first inning. Sanders leads the Cardinals with 23 two-out RBI.
Claussen, who won three of his four previous decisions, allowed only one other runner to reach second base during his six-inning stint. He gave up four hits with six strikeouts and one walk.
"That first inning, I didn't want to walk Reggie," Claussen said. "I challenged him and he challenged me back."
Cardinals 1B coach Dave McKay returned to his post after missing 10 games with a back injury. Bench coach Joe Pettini coached first in his absence. ... Sanders is batting .377 (26-for-69) in his last 19 starts with six homers and 16 RBI. ... The Reds and Devil Rays are the only teams in the major leagues without a complete game. ... The attendance of 38,640 was the first crowd below 40,000 at Busch Stadium since May 25, a stretch of 15 games. ... Claussen was hitless in two at-bats and is 4-for-44 in his career. ... Pujols had two hits and is 16-for-37 (.432) during a 10-game hitting streak. He also has 30 multihit games, tied with Brady Clark of the Brewers for the NL lead.