St. Louis, MO – Allen Craig belted a go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals moved into first place in the NL Central with an 8-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds in the opener of a three- game series at Busch Stadium.
Craig went 3-for-4 and Matt Holliday added a three-run homer for the Cardinals, who won for the eighth time in their last 10 contests. They moved a half-game ahead of idle Pittsburgh atop the division.
It's the start of a huge stretch for the Cardinals. Including Monday's contest, St. Louis plays either Cincinnati or the Pirates 13 straight times.
"It's huge. There's a decent amount of games left, but in the grand scheme of things it's getting down to crunch time," Craig said. "Our schedule has been extremely tough. It doesn't get any easier. We needed to win this game."
Zack Cozart had three RBI for the Reds, who are 2-7 in the last nine games against the Cardinals. Todd Frazier added a two-run triple, but Cincinnati fell 3 1/2 games off the pace in the division.
The Reds, who are still well ahead of Arizona for the second wild card spot, extended their lead to 5-3 in the sixth. Devin Mesoraco singled and scored on Cozart's double to the wall in left-center.
David Freese singled, pinch-hitter Carlos Beltran doubled and Manny Parra (1-3) came in from the bullpen to walk Matt Carpenter to fill the bases. Jon Jay bounced out to first baseman Joey Votto to drive in a run for the second out. J.J. Hoover then walked Holliday to get to Craig, who unleashed a shot over the wall in right for his first career grand slam.
"We had opportunities, we had some chances. It makes it tough when you're one out away," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Carlos Martinez (1-1) pitched two innings to notch his first major league win.
Seth Maness gave up a leadoff homer to Jay Bruce in the eighth, but Edward Mujica retired the side in order in the ninth to record his 35th save.
Reds starter Mike Leake was charged with seven hits and five runs over 6 1/3 innings, while Tyler Lyons yielded three hits and four runs -- one earned -- over the first five frames for St. Louis.
The Cardinals failed to score after placing two men in scoring position in the opening inning, and the Reds put a four-spot on the board in the second. Bruce singled, and with one out Mesoraco reached safely on an error from Daniel Descalso. Cozart followed with a triple to the gap in right-center to score both runners.
Leake walked, and with two outs Frazier also hit a triple to right-center, beyond a diving Jay in center to bring two more in.
"It was about keeping the game slow and making pitches," Lyons said. "Overall it was pretty good. Obviously, the second inning, it didn't go the way I wanted to. It was about bouncing back and keeping the team in the game as long as possible."
Holliday's homer to left in the third, which was an estimated 442 feet, scored Carpenter and Jay.
The Reds have not played well at Busch Stadium. In the previous 29 series in St. Louis since the start of the 2003 season the Reds have gone 3-24-2 ... St. Louis has hit a double in 17 straight games ... The Cardinals lead the season series, 9-4.