The Cardinals lost the division to the Cincinnati Reds by five games last year, but they beat the Reds two games out of every three they played -- 12-6 -- and the trend has continued this year.
Right-hander Jake Westbrook, who entered the game with a 9.82 earned run average and working on three days' rest, stifled the Reds on three hits for six innings. And the Cardinals' new Kiddie Korps bullpen -- second-year pitcher Fernando Salas and rookie Eduardo Sanchez, both right-handers, and one-week closer Mitchell Boggs, also a right-hander -- zipped through the last three innings giving up just one hit.
In the first game of the series here, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who had got into an altercation with Molina in the first inning of a game last August, had homered and had circled the bases in 'one flap down" fashion. Molina did the same on Sunday.
"Every time you hit a home run, what do you want? You want to be mad? Or sad?" said Molina.
"You've got to enjoy it. Especially me. I don't hit a bunch of home runs."
Molina had never had a hit in six at-bats against Volquez until Sunday when he singled and homered.
1B Albert Pujols had to leave after the seventh inning when he suffered what was described as a "very mild" hamstring strain while running out a ground ball. OF Lance Berkman made his first appearance at first base for the final two innings. So far, Pujols is not expected to miss much, if any, time.
RHP Fernando Salas has struck out six and allowed just one hit in his last three appearances, covering five innings. Meanwhile, RHP Eduardo Sanchez, who has appeared in only four games, turned in his fourth straight scoreless outing. In seven innings, he has struck out 12 while giving up two hits.
RHP Mitchell Boggs is three for three in saves as the new closer and has run off eight consecutive scoreless appearances covering 9 1/3 innings.
RF Lance Berkman extended his hitting streak to five games at 10 for 17 (.588). He also received his second intentional walk to take over the club lead in a category won annually by Albert Pujols, who has none.
The Cardinals have won their last five series after losing their first two as they have taken over first place in the National League Central.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2,650 - Number of managerial wins for Tony La Russa. That total is 113 behind second-place John McGraw.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The first three or four ball games, I found myself not really having a purpose with any pitch, just kind of throwing it up here. Just slinging it and hoping something good happens, instead of telling myself to have a purpose and focus to each pitch."
- RHP Jake Westbrook,
after pitching six scoreless innings against
1B Albert Pujols (hamstring strain) left the April 24 game, but is not expected to miss any significant time.
2B Skip Schumaker (strained right triceps) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 16. Manager Tony La Russa said Schumaker might be out longer than 15 days.
OF Allen Craig (left groin strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 17. He hopes to return after the minimum absence.
LHP Bryan Tallet (fractured right hand) went on 15-day disabled list April 13. He had screws inserted in his hand, and he hopes to return in early May.
RHP Bryan Augenstein (strained right groin) went on the 15-day disabled list April 13.
RHP Adam Wainwright (Tommy John surgery in February 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 25. He will miss the entire 2011 season.