CINCINNATI — Yadier Molina jawed with Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips in the first inning Tuesday night, sparking a benches-clearing fight, and the Cardinals followed their catcher's lead to an 8-4 victory that moved St. Louis back into first place in the NL Central.
Molina hit a solo homer and a sacrifice fly off Johnny Cueto (11-3), who got shoved against the backstop screen and furiously kicked several Cardinals during the altercation. Both managers were ejected, but no players.
Then, the Reds got kicked around by the Cardinals again. Matt Holliday broke the game open with a bases-loaded single in the seventh, one of his four hits.
Rookie left-hander Jaime Garcia (10-5) beat the Reds for the third time this season, giving up four runs in 5 1-3 innings.
Ryan Franklin retired Phillips, the only batter he faced, on a routine grounder with two runners aboard, ending the game for his 20th save in 22 tries.
St. Louis has won the first two games of the showdown series between teams locked in a tight race since May. The Cardinals moved a season-high 14 games over .500 and a few percentage points ahead of the Reds, who had led the division for the last eight days.
The defending champions improved to 9-5 against the Reds this season, the only team in the NL Central that has beaten them so thoroughly.
Phillips' words gave them extra incentive.
The second baseman opened the series by saying he hates the Cardinals and calling them complainers. Reds manager Dusty Baker wished he hadn't said it, and had a talk with Phillips before the game on Tuesday.
Then, Phillips caught grief in the batter's box.
He dug in to lead off the bottom of the first, waving his bat around the ground as usual. He and Molina quickly got into an angry exchange – Phillips took off his helmet, Molina removed his mask. Both benches and bullpens emptied.
La Russa and Baker talked animatedly in the middle of the crowd. Reds third baseman Scott Rolen – a former Cardinal – went after St. Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter, who beat the Reds 7-3 in the series opener on Monday night. Carpenter ended up pinned against the backstop screen while Rolen was pulled away.
Cueto also ended up against the screen, furiously kicking players away. The altercation lasted seven minutes. Play resumed and Phillips grounded out.
Molina had a satisfying moment in the second inning, hitting a solo homer that put the Cardinals up 2-0. He pumped his arms while rounding the bases and exchanged joyous slaps in the dugout. He also singled and had a sacrifice fly off Cueto that made it 5-2 in the sixth.
Drew Stubbs' bases-loaded single in the sixth off Fernando Salas cut it to 5-4, but Holliday matched it an inning later, after Logan Ondrusek intentionally walked Albert Pujols to load the bases.
Phillips drove in a run with a groundout in the third. That's been the highlight of the series for Phillips, who is 1 for 10 in the two games.
NOTES: The last St. Louis rookie to win 10 games was Jason Simontacchi in 2002. ... 2B Skip Schumaker left the game with leg cramps. It was 95 degrees at game time. ... La Russa said RH Jeff Suppan had discomfort in his groin during a between-starts workout on Monday and is being examined. ... The Reds started using RHP Homer Bailey out of the bullpen during his minor league rehab stint. Bailey has been on the DL since May 24 with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... Holliday's bases-loaded single ended Ondrusek's streak of scoreless innings at 22.