CINCINNATI -- David Ross hit the pitch so squarely that he didn't even feel it leave the bat.
The next few seconds felt surreal, too.
Ross' ninth-inning drive off St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen landed on the roof of the batter's eye in center field, a two-run homer that carried the Cincinnati Reds to an 8-7 victory Wednesday night that tightened the NL Central race.
It left knots in some stomachs, too.
"This team has a flair for the dramatic," Ross said.
Down to their last two outs, the Reds pulled it out for a 2-1 lead in the series, which concludes Thursday afternoon. Second-place Cincinnati moved to 2½ games behind the Cardinals, whose top starter and closer got rocked by homers.
Chris Carpenter gave up three solo shots in seven innings, the first time in more than two years that he allowed three in a game. St. Louis almost overcame it.
Isringhausen (3-5), who entered with one out in the eighth, came out on the bad end of the last-swing drama -- Cincinnati's fifth game-ending homer this season.
He walked Rich Aurilia with one out in the ninth, only the second walk by St. Louis pitchers in the game. Ross, who stayed in the game after pinch-hitting in the seventh, then hit a high fastball onto the roof of the batter's eye, a 442-foot shot that made the capacity crowd delirious.
Ross slapped hands with first base coach Billy Hatcher before rounding the bases, then flung his batting helmet over the crowd of wide-mouthed teammates at the plate before stepping on it.
"You round third and you see those guys waiting there to beat on you," Ross said. "That's why I threw the helmet off. They can bang on that thing and snap your neck. I don't know if I'll sleep tonight."
Ryan Franklin (2-5), acquired in a trade on Monday, pitched a perfect ninth for the win.
Things have gone that way all season for the NL Central's top two teams. The defending champion Cardinals have a pair of eight-game losing streaks, preventing them from putting Cincinnati away.
"The last couple of years, we won 100 and ran away with the division," said Isringhausen, who is 29-of-37 in save chances. "This year, we're not playing as well. Hopefully we'll grind it out, come out on top, and that will make us better at playoff time."
The Reds have been up-and-down all season as well, but managed to stay in contention by taking care of the Cardinals head-to-head. Cincinnati is up 8-3 in the season series, which concludes next week with three games in St. Louis.
"I know it's going to be a lot of fun, no matter what," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "It's a big game any time you're playing a first-place team."
In a high-stakes game of home run derby, the Reds got the most meaningful ones. Eleven runs scored on homers -- two by the Cardinals, four by Cincinnati.
Carpenter gave up solo shots to Adam Dunn, Scott Hatteberg and Edwin Encarnacion, his first three-homer game since July 30, 2004. Carpenter also gave up a two-run double by Brandon Phillips that tied it at 6 in the sixth inning.
Half of Cincinnati's eight hits cleared the wall.
"There was a lot of damage in those eight hits," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
The Reds drew their second consecutive capacity crowd -- their sixth overall this season -- for the matchup of contenders and a Davey Concepcion bobblehead giveaway. The club handed out 5,000 vouchers because it received fewer than the 40,000 bobbleheads that it ordered.
The first two games of the series were blowouts -- 13-1 by St. Louis, 10-3 by the Reds. In this one, a pair of No. 1 starters had trouble keeping their pitches down.
Edmonds hit his sixth career slam in the first inning off Aaron Harang, who didn't allow a homer in his two previous starts against the Cardinals this season. It was Edmonds' first grand slam since April 21, 2004, at Houston.
- Cardinals LHP Mark Mulder, on the DL since June 21 with a sore shoulder, is scheduled to make his second rehab start on Friday for Triple-A Memphis. He threw five innings for Class-A Quad Cities on Sunday.
- Rolen is day-to-day. He struck out and popped out in his two at-bats before leaving the game.
- RHP Braden Looper is expected to miss at least a couple of games with a sore back. He had to come out of Tuesday night's game after throwing a pitch.