Michael Wacha's second start back from a shoulder problem wasn't very good.
Devin Mesoraco homered off Wacha and drove in three runs, and Mike Leake pitched into the seventh inning, leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 9-5 victory on Tuesday night that ended their six-game losing streak against the St. Cardinals.
"One of those days when you're fighting just to stay in it," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
The NL Central leaders lost for only the second time in 11 games and maintained their 4½-game lead over Pittsburgh. St. Louis is 10-4 against the Reds and 40-25 overall in the division.
The Reds won for the third time in 11 games. They are 17-33 since the All-Star break, a slide that has dropped them out of contention.
Mesoraco hit his 23rd homer in the first inning off Wacha (5-6), a two-run shot. He also doubled home a run in the fifth as Cincinnati scored four times, knocking Wacha out of the game.
Wacha made his second start since returning from a shoulder problem that had sidelined him since mid-June and gave up six hits, six runs and three walks.
"He had some good signs," Matheny said. "He had trouble locating his fastball today. If you can't control the (strike) zone with your fastball and put it on both sides of the plate, you're going to have a rough night."
The Cardinals are trying to get Wacha ready to be a big contributor down the stretch. As a rookie last season, he was the MVP of the NL championship series.
He's got a way to go before he's back in form.
"Just wasn't good," Wacha said. "I missed a lot of spots. I left a lot of balls down the middle of the plate. I left some hanging breaking balls and some fastballs down the middle."
Leake (11-11) was coming off his worst start of the season, giving up a season-high seven runs and three homers during a 9-7 loss in Baltimore last Thursday. Against the Cardinals, Leake allowed three runs and eight hits.
He also doubled home a run in the fourth for a 3-1 lead. His fifth double of the season was his 68th career hit, the most by any pitcher in the majors since his debut in 2010.
Down 7-1, the Cardinals sent nine batters to the plate in the seventh inning. Tony Cruz and Jon Jay had RBI singles, and Jumbo Diaz walked Jhonny Peralta with the bases loaded, cutting it to 7-4. First baseman Brayan Pena made a diving stop of A.J. Pierzynski's line drive to end the rally.
Chris Heisey's two-run single in the eighth let Cincinnati pull away.
Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong saved a run in the fourth when he sprinted into right field and made an over-the-shoulder catch of Billy Hamilton's fly, holding onto the ball as he tumbled on the ground.
MESORACO AND BENCH
Mesoraco has hit 22 of his 23 homers while catching, the most by a Reds catcher since Johnny Bench hit 23 in 1980. His other homer came as a designated hitter.
Wong extended his hitting streak to six games. ... Wacha allowed five earned runs for the first time this season. ... RHP Sam Tuivailala made his big league debut and gave up two runs and retired two batters. ... Xavier Scruggs got his first career hit. ... Reds SS Zack Cozart snapped an 0 for 16 slump. ... It was the first time this season that the Reds won a game when they allowed 14 hits.
Cardinals: Matheny is gradually increasing Wacha's pitch counts. Matheny says getting him back is "like getting a new player" for down the stretch. He threw 70 pitches on Tuesday, 44 for strikes.
Reds: Starter Dylan Axelrod is likely done for the season with a strained right oblique, sustained on his seventh pitch Monday night. ... 1B Joey Votto took ground balls for a second straight day on Tuesday. The Reds are trying to get him ready to play the final week of the season. He has been on the disabled list since July 8 with strained muscles above his left knee.
Cardinals: St. Louis is 10-4 against the Reds this season. John Lackey (13-9) starts the third of their four-game series on Wednesday.
Reds: Alfredo Simon (13-10) is 1-7 with a 5.27 ERA in 10 starts since his first All-Star game.
Link to box score: Cincinnati (68-77) 9, St. Louis (80-65) 5
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