Matt Holliday hit a go-ahead, three-run homer to back Chris Carpenter's latest dominant effort against Cincinnati in a 4-2 victory Sunday as the Cardinals took two of three from the division-leading Reds.
Cincinnati has a formidable lead over St. Louis, which has only 28 games to go, and the teams don't play again this season.
"We've got to win games, no matter who we're playing," Carpenter said.
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St. Louis had lost eight of nine overall going into the weekend, their only three games at home in a stretch of 20 games. Although they finished 12-6 against the Reds, they're 20-24 against the rest of the Central.
This was its first series win since Aug. 20-22 against San Francisco.
"We've got a pulse," shortstop Brendan Ryan said. "I think this was a nice breath of fresh air, coming home and beating the Reds."
Hearing sellout crowds boo Brandon Phillips all weekend, too.
Not that it seemed to bother the Reds' second baseman.
"So, you want to ask me about the booing?" Phillips said. "The booing didn't do anything to me. It was funny, everything was funny. I was laughing the whole time."
Homer Bailey (3-3) walked Albert Pujols intentionally in the sixth inning before giving up Holliday's two-out shot on a 1-2 hanging breaking ball. Holliday fouled off two pitches before hitting his 25th homer, topping last season's total and giving the Cardinals a 4-2 lead.
"I thought that was my only mistake the whole day," Bailey said. "And it ended up costing us the game."
Bailey agreed with manager Dusty Baker's decision to make Holliday beat him, rather than a three-time NL MVP.
"Like Dusty said, it's just kind of picking your poison," Bailey said. "They're both hitting over .300, they both have 25-30 home runs. What can you do?"
Holliday has conceded to pressing at times to justify his seven-year, $120 million contract, yet he leads the team with 43 two-out RBI. The homer was his second after an intentional walk to Pujols, who leads the majors with 33.
"I get gratification for doing something to help the team win as opposed to thumbing my noise at the other team," Holliday said. "That doesn't really mean much to me."
Carpenter (15-5) struck out a season-high 11 in 7 1/3 innings. He's 5-0 with a 1.78 ERA in five starts against the Reds this season and has a club-record 10-game winning streak against them dating to his last loss in June 2006.
"This was a much bigger game for us than it was for them," manager Tony La Russa said. "And Carp showed up, like he always does."
The right-hander struck out five straight batters in the sixth and seventh and exceeded his previous season best of 10 strikeouts done twice in April. He had totaled 11 strikeouts in his previous four starts.
Carpenter has feasted on Central opponents, going 18-4 the last two seasons and is 44-16 overall with a 2.75 ERA.
Bailey allowed four runs in six innings and fell to 1-4 with a 6.02 ERA against St. Louis. He had been 2-0 since coming off the 15-day disabled list from shoulder inflammation in mid-August, and the Reds lost for the first time in one of his starts since May 23 at Cleveland.
The Reds had success against last year's Cy Young runner-up only in the fifth when Phillips hit a bloop double to set up Orlando Cabrera's two-run double.
The Cardinals also scored in the fifth when Colby Rasmus led off with a double and eventually scored on Pedro Feliz's groundout.
Ryan Franklin worked the ninth for his 24th save in 26 opportunities.
- Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, who missed the series attending to a family emergency in the Dominican Republic, was supposed to meet the team at the St. Louis airport before flying to Colorado for a four-game series.
- Holliday leads the Cardinals with 41 multihit games, two more than Pujols.
- Carpenter has 15 career double-digit strikeout games.
- Reds OF Jay Bruce (right side) missed his fifth straight start.
- Feliz's fielding error at 3B on Phillips' grounder to start the game was his first in 16 games since joining the Cardinals.