CINCINNATI -- Johnny Cueto got the better of the team he kicked around the last time they met.
The right-hander took a shutout into the eighth inning on Saturday, and the Cincinnati Reds beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-3, taking over first place with strong showings by the two players who were at the epicenter of their bloody and bruising brawl last season.
The defending NL Central champions moved into first place alone for the first time since April 18 behind Cueto and second baseman Brandon Phillips, who ignited the fight last Aug. 10 with his derogatory comments about the Cardinals.
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Phillips drove in three runs with a solo homer, RBI single and sacrifice fly. Ramon Hernandez added a pair of home runs.
Then, the capacity crowd of 41,307 stayed and cheered as Cincinnati's wishbone "C" moved ahead of the Cardinals on the standings board above the outfield, reflecting their half-game edge.
Not everyone celebrated or even claimed to notice.
"I didn't see that," Phillips said. "What are we, tied? We're up a half-game? See, I don't worry about it. If you keep winning, everything will take care of itself."
The Reds made sure not to kick the Cardinals when they were down -- no gloating or savoring this one more than any other.
"I just wanted to win the game," Cueto said, through a trainer serving as translator. "I was throwing my normal game like I pitch to any other team."
When the Cardinals and Reds get together, it isn't just any other game. There's too much history for that.
And now, a little more.
Cueto (2-0) slashed two Cardinals with his cleats during that brawl last season and got a seven-game suspension. He hadn't faced them since.
The spicy rematch was all Cueto, who didn't allow a Cardinal to reach second base until Matt Holliday doubled in the seventh. A pair of errors set up Jon Jay's three-run homer in the eighth. Cueto gave up three hits and fanned five in 7 2-3 innings.
"Mainly, that was the story of the day," acting Cardinals manager Joe Pettini said. "We just had a tough day against Cueto."
Cueto also made the best play of the game, whirling his glove behind his back for a no-look stab at Albert Pujols' grounder up the middle in the seventh. That out brought a big smile to his face, and he patted his glove in response to a standing ovation from the fans when he left the game in the eighth.
"When he made that catch behind his back, I figured it was probably his day," Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said.
The last time Cueto faced the Cardinals, he got pinned against the backstop during the brawl and furiously kicked catcher Jason LaRue and pitcher Chris Carpenter, later saying he was protecting himself. Cueto stayed in the game and lasted only 5 1/3 innings, giving up five runs in St. Louis' 8-4 win.
Hernandez homered on each of the first two pitches he saw from Kyle McClellan (5-1), who went six innings and then headed back to Missouri to be with his wife when she delivers the couple's first child.
The win represented a breakthrough for the Reds, who won the division last season despite going 6-12 against the Cardinals and dropping four of their five series. The Reds have won the first two games of the weekend series, leaving them 3-2 against St. Louis this season.
The Reds have won eight of 10 overall, buoyed by the return of starters Homer Bailey and Cueto. Both had been sidelined by shoulder problems since spring training.
Phillips got the Reds going by leading off the second with his fifth homer. He showing no extra emotion while rounding the bases quickly after ending the Cardinals' streak of eight games without allowing a homer.
"It felt real good," Phillips said. "I was looking for a ball to drive. I was sitting on something real slow and wanted to see what I could do with it."
Hernandez led off the third with a homer on the first pitch from McClellan. He did the same thing leading off the fifth, connecting on the first pitch for his ninth multihomer game.
The Reds honored former manager Sparky Anderson before the game, playing a tribute to their late skipper on the video board and giving away statues. ... Cardinals SS Ryan Theriot was back after missing two games with sore muscles in his right side. ... The Reds activated RH reliever Jose Arredondo and optioned RH Mike Leake to Triple-A Louisville. Arredondo hadn't pitched in the majors since having reconstructive elbow surgery on Feb. 2, 2010.