The Cardinals seized sole possession of first place in the National League Central division Monday night with a win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Staging comebacks hasn't been the strong suit of this team for the bulk of the season. But it's reversed the trend lately to keep its momentum moving in the right direction -- toward the top of the standings.
It looked early on like the Redbirds might cede the division lead back to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They fell behind 4-0 in the first when Allen Craig, playing out of position in right field, let a ball drop in front of him to start the second inning which looked like it ought to have been caught. The chance to erase the mistake slipped through shortstop Daniel Descalso's hands when a potential double play ball eluded his glove for an error.
Cincinnati was able to make the most of its opportunity with a pair of RBI triples. St. Louis starter Tyler Lyons deserved a better fate. He was good for one or two of the runs. But not all four.
The Cardinals started to claw their way back in the bottom of the third when Matt Carpenter hit a one out single and then Jon Jay walked. Matt Holliday drove a pitch off the third deck in left field to cut the Cincinnati lead to 4-3.
The Reds notched an insurance run against Carlos Martinez to make the score 5-3. But the Redbirds got a single from David Freese to start the bottom of the seventh and then Freese went to third with one out when Carlos Beltran doubled. Carpenter walked to load the bases and then Jon Jay grounded out to first base.
Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto appeared to have lost count of the number of outs in the inning. Instead of firing to second base to try to start an inning-ending double play, he trotted to first and stepped on the bag before heading toward the third base dugout.
The blunder gave the Cardinals a second life and, after Matt Holliday was walked to load the bases, Craig picked out a fastball away to drive to the opposite field, clearing the wall for a grand slam that put St. Louis up 8-5.
The Reds scored a run on a solo homer in the eighth. But that was all the close the Reds could get. The win pushed the Birds ahead of the idle Bucs by half a game and moved Cincinnati to 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis.
After his rough start, Craig ended the game with three hits in four at-bats with four driven in and one scored. His batting average is suddenly back up to .317 for the season with 13 homers and 95 RBI. Holliday's homer is part of a power surge that has pushed him to 18 home runs for the season with 70 runs batted in for the season.
Mujica, who had been on the shelf as he tried to work the kinks out of a balky shoulder, looked the sharpest he has been in quite a while Monday night. He gave up a long fly ball to deep centerfield that was tracked down by Jay. But, after that, he didn't allow much excitement.