Reds 8, Cardinals 6

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CINCINNATI (AP)—Aaron Boone won’t waste any time analyzing his home-run binge. He’d rather savor the results than look for the reasons.

Boone hit three solo homers Thursday, leading the way once again as the Cincinnati Reds beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-6 and completed a four-game sweep.

The Reds hit four homers in all—Sean Casey added a solo shot—as they completed their first sweep at Great American Ball Park and compiled their first four-game winning streak of the season.

Their pitching staff has the NL’s worst ERA, their defense has the most errors in the major leagues and the lineup leads the league in strikeouts, but the Reds are starting to feel like a good team.

“We’re focused,” said Boone, who led off the second, sixth and seventh innings with homers. “We have a purpose each day. There’s no letting up. We kind of have blinders on to things that aren’t under out control. That’s the attitude that I think this team is starting to take.”

The Cardinals were the hot team coming into the series—seven straight wins, first place in the NL Central in their pocket. Just like that, they got their pocket picked.

“I don’t think we’re struggling per se,” said starter Garrett Stephenson, who gave up Boone’s first two homers. “We’re not clicking on a few things. It was our first time to this ballpark. We didn’t really know what to expect.”

They got one surprise after another, most of them from Boone.

He led off the ninth inning of the series opener with a game-ending homer, and Barry Larkin duplicated the feat with a game-ending homer the next day.

The Reds hit 10 homers in all during the series—half of them by Boone, who was 7-for-14 with seven RBIs. He hit a career-high 26 homers last season, and is on pace to shatter his mark.

“I don’t want to explain it,” Boone said, waving his right hand in puzzlement. “I’ve just been getting some good pitches to hit lately. I’ve been hitting mistakes. That’s all home runs are, usually. I’m going to hit some, but I certainly wouldn’t get used to this.”

The Reds got used to good feelings during the series, which left them with a winning record at Great American (11-8) and made inroads with fans. The crowd of 30,567 on Thursday was their biggest since opening day.

“I think that’s the result of two last-inning home runs and exciting baseball,” shortstop Barry Larkin said. “How many times do you get the opportunity to win a series like we did against the Cardinals?”

Opponents will have more such opportunities until St. Louis fixes its bullpen. The Cardinals are 2-9 in one-run games and 4-5 in two-run decisions, an indication of how much they miss disabled closer Jason Isringhausen.

The sweep was painful.

“It puts a little fire underneath you,” Stephenson said. “Maybe it wakes us up.”

Stephenson gave up Casey’s homer in the first and Boone’s in the second. Boone’s leadoff homer in the sixth started a decisive four-run rally.

It was Boone’s seventh multihomer game. He hit three in his first three at-bats off Brett Tomko during the Reds’ 12-10 victory last Aug. 9 over San Diego. Tomko started for the Cardinals on Monday, but held Boone to an infield single.

Once again, it came down to the bullpens, the only place where the Reds have a pronounced advantage over their NL Central rival.

Mike Crudale (0-1) took over for Stephenson during the four-run sixth and gave up the go-ahead run.

Scott Sullivan (3-0) got the victory in relief of Paul Wilson, who gave up four runs in five innings. Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer in the Cardinals’ three-run first inning.

Scott Williamson pitched the ninth to remain perfect in eight save opportunities.

The Reds hadn’t swept the Cardinals since they took four games in Cincinnati in 1999, the season that they won 96 games before losing a one-game playoff tothe Mets for the NL wild card.

Notes

CF Jim Edmonds was out of the Cardinals’ starting lineup. He got into the game late and went 0-for-2, leaving him 1-for-14 in the series. The skid dropped his average from .402 to .356. … Stephenson is 1-5 career against the Reds with a 5.40 ERA. … Casey is 10-for-19 career against Stephenson with two homers. Boone is 7-for-16 with three homers. … Larkin made his first appearance at shortstop since coming off the DL on Tuesday. He flubbed thefirst grounder hit his way for an error, but doubled and scored twice.