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Cardinals Battle Reds In Finale Of Crucial Series

(Sports Network) - The Cardinals and Reds have been fighting in the standings all season long. Yesterday it escalated onto the field.

Tied atop the National League Central, St. Louis and Cincinnati wrap up a three-game set this afternoon less than 24 hours after a wild benches-clearing brawl.

The Cardinals have taken the first two games of this set to move into a virtual tie with the Reds, with St. Louis a few percentage points ahead of Cincinnati.

Prior to Monday's victory, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips had some unflattering words for the Cardinals in which he said he hated the club and called them complainers. During the first inning of Tuesday's 8-4 Cardinals win, Phillips got into it with St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina after he tapped both Molina and the home plate umpire on the shin with his bat.

Molina, though, kicked Phillips' bat away before stepping on home plate and engaged in a heated argument with his opponent. Both benches emptied and the players, as well as St. Louis manager Tony La Russa and Cincinnati skipper Dusty Baker, started jawing.

"I was ready to start the game. He touched me," Molina said. "The comment he made [Monday] that we have nothing over here ... why did you touch me then? You are not my friend. You don't have to touch me. If we are not here for you, then you are not my friend."

The melee then moved towards the backstop and the Reds' Scott Rolen, a former Cardinal, went at it with ex-teammate Chris Carpenter, while Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto found himself pinned against the backstop and began throwing wild kicks. One appeared to connect with St. Louis' Jason LaRue, who had a gash above his left eye and apparently suffered a slight concussion.

Both managers were ejected, but no players.

"Afterwards, I just turned around and I've got Cueto kicking me in the back with his spikes," Carpenter said. "It's super unprofessional. I don't know where he learned how to fight."

The Cardinals were already up 1-0 at the time of the incident and Molina homered in the second to double the advantage. Though the Reds scored twice in the third to tie the game, getting one of those runs on a Phillips ground out, St. Louis went ahead for good with a three-run sixth inning.

Matt Holliday ended with four hits and three RBI and Molina drove in a pair of runs for the Cardinals, who have won four of five overall and nine of 14 over the Reds so far this year, taking five of eight in Cincinnati.

These two clubs wrap up their season series from Sept. 3-5.

Cueto suffered the loss, his first since June 18, after giving up five runs -- four earned -- over 5 1/3 innings and Drew Stubbs drove in two runs for the Reds, who lost their first series since the All-Star break (6-1-1) and are in danger of being swept in three games by the Cardinals at home for the first time since May 2-4, 2005.

"Regardless of anything that happened it's all about wins and losses," Phillips said. "We're in the race and that's what we need to do, we need to win."

The Reds figure to have their hands full today with Adam Wainwright slated to take the mound for the Cardinals. The right-hander has won two straight starts and is pitching to a 1.28 earned run average over his last eight outings, going 6-1 while allowing one run or less in seven of those games.

Wainwright is coming off a two-hit, three-walk shutout of the Marlins on Friday, his second of the season and eighth of his career. He is 16-6 on the season with a 2.07 ERA, but just 5-6 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 road starts.

The 28-year-old is 2-3 with a 4.68 ERA in his career versus the Reds. He has faced them twice this year, both times in Cincinnati, and was tagged for four runs over six innings in a loss the last time they met on May 15.

The Reds counter with Bronson Arroyo, who has also won consecutive starts and is 5-2 over his last seven outings.

Arroyo hasn't allowed an earned run over his last two outings, yielding a pair of unearned runs on a win over Atlanta on July 31 before hurling seven shutout innings of five-run ball versus the Cubs on Friday.

The 33-year-old righty is 12-6 on the year with a 3.83 ERA and 7-9 with a 4.49 ERA lifetime against the Cardinals. He has split two decisions versus them this year in three starts, including a two-run complete game-victory at home on May 16.