CINCINNATI -- No denying the importance of this one. The Cardinals knew they needed it.
Needed it to start a defining road trip with a step forward. Needed it to close the gap and slow down those Reds in the NL Central. Needed it to keep their own surge going.
With one big inning and a fabulous job by the bullpen, they got it.
Allen Craig and Yadier Molina homered during a six-run sixth inning on Friday night, and the defending World Series champions opened an important trip by beating the Cincinnati Reds 8-5 and moving six games back of the NL Central leaders.
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"A really big game for us to start the road trip against our top competitor and get a victory," Craig said.
The Cardinals' big comeback off Mat Latos (10-4) started a 10-day trip against the Reds, Pirates and Nationals. Craig and Molina had three hits apiece as St. Louis piled up 14 in all, pulling away against a starter who has been tough to hit in August and a bullpen that is the NL's best.
"Without question, one of those character wins," manager Mike Matheny said. "It says a lot about this team. We'll have to be that kind of team the rest of the way."
Cincinnati got the better of it early, knocking starter Lance Lynn out of the game in the third inning. Joe Kelly (4-5) fanned six in three innings of relief. Jason Motte pitched the ninth for his 30th save in 35 chances, giving up a pair of singles before fanning Scott Rolen to end it.
St. Louis' bullpen allowed only six hits and fanned 13 over the last seven innings
"We've got a great offense and a great bullpen, and they bailed us out tonight," Lynn said. "That's the fun part of this team."
It's an important weekend for the Reds as well. They're honoring former shortstop and team captain Barry Larkin, who was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame this summer. His No. 11 will be retired by the team before Saturday's game and was stamped in chalk behind second base for the start of the series.
The opener came down to one big inning.
Latos tried to extend his August dominance -- only three earned runs allowed in his four previous starts. He suffered a meltdown in the sixth inning, when he gave up four runs without retiring a batter.
"I went from having good command of my fastball to not," Latos said.
The inning started poorly for Latos, who was slow to cover first base on Carlos Beltran's grounder, letting him reach on an infield single. Matt Holliday singled, and Craig followed with his 19th homer, trying it 5-all. Three pitches later, Molina hit an opposite-field homer -- his fourth off the Reds this season.
Latos left after facing five batters in the inning without getting an out. St. Louis completed its six-run rally off Alfredo Simon, matching the biggest inning against the Reds this season.
The Cardinals are in a familiar spot when it comes to making up ground. Last year, they trailed Atlanta for the NL wild card by 10½ games on Aug. 24, but caught the Braves to make the playoffs and went on to win their 11th World Series title.
They've started another late push, winning four in a row and 13 of their past 20 to move a season-high 13 games over .500.
The Reds are holding on while waiting for their best hitter to get back. First baseman Joey Votto did a full workout before the game and said he's "not too far off" from returning. Votto, the league's MVP in 2010, was batting .342 when he had surgery for torn knee cartilage on July 17.
The rest of the lineup has done an impeccable job without him, going 26-13.
Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart led off the Reds' first with a double, extending his hitting streak to a career-best 12 games. Rookie infielder Todd Frazier's RBI single extended his streak to a career-high nine games, helping the Reds get the early advantage.
Craig had a couple of streaks in play. He led off the second inning with a single that extended his run to 13 games, the longest active one in the majors. The hit also snapped his 0-for-15 career mark at Great American Ball Park.
- The teams have split their 10 games this season.
- In his past two starts combined, Lynn has lasted 6 1/3 innings and given up 10 hits and seven earned runs.
- Latos hadn't allowed more than one homer in any of his past six starts.
- Molina is batting .382 against the Reds this season.
- Motte became the 18th Cardinal to reach 30 saves.