The Cardinals winners 6-4 over the Reds

It's the National League Central, the division of lightweights, but the Cardinals have moved just three games behind the Brewers in the loss column after a 6-4 win over the Reds on Wednesday.

Moreover, the Cardinals are four games under .500 for the first time since May 14 and are as close to first place (five games) as they've been since they trailed by 4 1/2 games on April 29.

But manager Tony La Russa cautioned, "We're trying to sniff .500. Our goal is to be a winning club. First place doesn't have anything to do with it."

Mirroring the Cardinals' long climb from nine games under .500 and 10 games off the pace is the climb of outfielder Ryan Ludwick, mostly a minor-leaguer during his nine seasons of pro baseball.

Ludwick, brought up about a month ago from Class AAA Memphis, cracked a first-pitch, game-tying home run as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. He has ensured he will stay awhile because he's 5-for-9 as a pinch hitter. "He doesn't get cheated," La Russa said.

Albert Pujols did the heavy lifting with a two-run homer later in the inning on a pitch that wasn't that bad from Bronson Arroyo.

And guess who's hitting .300? David Eckstein, who was at .207 on May 14, is riding a nine-game hitting streak in which he is 17-for-37 (.459).

CARDINALS 6, REDS 4: The Cardinals won their sixth game in the last seven by scoring three runs in the seventh inning off tiring Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo on homers by Ryan Ludwick and Albert Pujols. Jason Isringhausen saved his 14th game in 15 tries to go with three wins. To show the effectiveness of Isringhausen and his bullpen mates, the Cardinals are 19-1 in games they lead after seven innings and 20-0 in games they lead after eight.

NOTES AND QUOTES

--C Gary Bennett, plunked in the back of the head by an Aaron Harang pitch the night before, was out of the lineup Wednesday but said he could play. C Kelly Stinnett, playing his first full game with the Cardinals, singled and drove in a run.

--3B Scott Rolen, who had missed three games and most of another with a strained right hamstring, was back at third base Wednesday. He doubled and scored in his first at-bat.

--LHP Mark Mulder, who had been rehabilitating his surgically repaired left shoulder in Florida, is throwing off a mound in Busch Stadium as the latest step in a comeback that the Cardinals hope will culminate in a late July return.

--RHP Chris Carpenter, who pitched just once before undergoing elbow surgery, was on the field playing catch Wednesday for the first time since then. His return tentatively is slated for early August.

--INF Aaron Miles, a switch hitter, manned second base instead of left-handed-hitting Adam Kennedy against RHP Bronson Arroyo.

This was one of the few times Kennedy has been sat down against a right-hander, but he was 0-for-8 in his career against Arroyo, while Miles was 4-for-14. But Miles was hitless in four tries Wednesday and is 0 for his last 16.

--LF Chris Duncan is 23-for-50 (.460) in his career against Cincinnati, but he was 0 for his last 15 this season before he doubled in the fourth inning Wednesday.


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