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.
EARLIER: Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker were both ejected after the first-inning brawl behind home plate.
No players were tossed as emotions stayed high in the wake of Brandon Phillips' comments on Monday that weren't too kind to the Cardinals.
Reds starter Johnny Cueto was one of the more active participants, kicking at one point while backed up against the fence.
Scott Rolen vs. Chris Carpenter was a good sideshow as well.
It started in bottom of the first when Phillips came to bat and got into a jawing match with Yadier Molina.
From there, the benches emptied and the mob pushed up against the backstop.
After seven minutes, it was over.
Phillips got the showdown series started with a little animosity on Monday by saying he hated the Cardinals, whom he called complainers. Baker talked to him about the comments before the game on Tuesday, saying he wished the second baseman had kept his feelings to himself.
Phillips was more diplomatic after his talk with Baker, but didn't back down.
"Everybody, they respect me for what I said," Phillips said before Tuesday's game. "Those are my comments. A lot of people feel that way all throughout the league. Many people feel that way."
The Cardinals attempt to give the Reds only their second series defeat in their last 14 tonight behind rookie lefthander Jaime Garcia. With much buzz still emanating from Brandon Phillips' Monday allegations about the Cardinals whine factor, the Redbirds will attempt to secure a first-place tie.
3B Felipe Lopez
RF Jon Jay
1B Albert Pujols
LF Matt Holliday
CF Colby Rasmus
C Yadier Molina
2B Skip Schumaker
P Jaime Garcia
SS Brendan Ryan
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Paul Janish
1B Joey Votto
3B Scott Rolen
LF Jonny Gomes
RF Chris Helsey
C Ramon Hernandez
P Johnny Cueto