ST. LOUIS -- The Reds' nine-game road trip began poorly in Chicago, and history indicated that it could have gone bad at Houston before getting worse in St. Louis. How about this for man bites dog? Cincinnati is instead going home with a share of first place. A 7-4 victory over the Cardinals before 44,306 at Busch Stadium completed the Reds' second straight three-game series sweep on the trip.
"It sounds fine to us," said third baseman Rich Aurilia, who went 4-for-5 with five RBIs -- including a three-run homer. "I think a lot of other people will probably pick up their paper tomorrow, read it, and go, 'Who the [heck] is that? What's going on?'" From being five games back on June 1, it took the Reds (35-24) less than a week to move into a first-place tie with St. Louis in the National League Central standings. After starting out 0-2 last week at Wrigley Field, which included a particularly poor and mistake filled second game, the Reds have banged out a season-high seven straight wins -- all against NL Central opponents. Until sweeping the Astros, the Reds were 3-19 and lost seven straight series at Minute Maid Park. The club hadn't won a series in St. Louis since 2003 and hadn't swept one since 1998. "To go to Houston and St. Louis back-to-back and win all six, that's not easy," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "They're the two best teams in this division." Now the Reds should be part of that conversation, too. "I think people are starting to believe in us," said closer Todd Coffey, who pitched the ninth inning for his fourth save. "But the main thing is we all believe in ourselves. From day one of Spring Training, we believed in this team and we're going after it." "Everybody has us picked sixth [out of six teams]," Narron said. "We'll keep grinding and battling and just doing everything we can to play the game the right way. If we do that, we have a chance to be competitive all year." The Reds notched 22 of the trip's 58 runs in their three games against the Cardinals and handed them their first sweep at their new ballpark. Scott Hatteberg and Aurilia provided third-inning RBI singles that gave Cincinnati a 2-0 lead. It was 4-0 after Felipe Lopez began the fifth with a four-pitch walk off Cardinals starter Sidney Ponson (4-1). Hatteberg followed by pulling an RBI double inside the first-base line and scored on Aurilia's double. Ryan Freel's second double of the game in the sixth chased Ponson. Hatteberg walked against reliever Tyler Johnson before Aurilia yanked a 2-1 pitch into the left-field seats to make it 7-0. Reds starter Aaron Harang pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed three earned runs on eight hits with one walk and three strikeouts. Harang (7-4) couldn't escape the sixth, when St. Louis scratched out five-straight two-out hits and scored three runs, including Scott Rolen's two-run double. Chris Hammond finished the sixth. David Weathers pitched two innings and allowed Jim Edmonds' solo homer. Coffey closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth. Cincinnati isn't through yet with division foes. It opens a 10-game homestand Thursday with seven games against the Cubs and Brewers. This definitely isn't a bad thing. The Reds are 24-12 within their division this year, the best mark in the NL. The Cardinals are 14-17. The Astros are 13-12 while the Cubs are 15-13. "If you win your division, you have to play well against your division," Narron said. "The way the schedule is, there are so many games within your own division." The Cardinals have dominated the NL Central the past three seasons, winning it by no less than 10 games each year. Therefore, the Reds still have some work to do. "A lot of guys in here haven't been in a pennant race before," Aurilia said. "These three games for us were exciting. So I hope they got a taste of what it might be like later in the year. Anytime playing in a ballpark like this that sells out, playing a good team, both teams playing well, that's a playoff atmosphere. I hope we learn from what we did here the last three days and carry it over to the rest of the season."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.