ST. LOUIS -- There's a school of thought that says a batter should make the pitcher throw a strike after the previous hitter draws a walk.
Allen Craig opted for a more aggressive approach Monday, and it put the St. Louis Cardinals back in first place in the National League Central.
Craig launched a first-pitch fastball from Cincinnati's J.J. Hoover over the right field wall for the first grand slam of his career with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, lifting the Cardinals to an 8-6 win over the Reds at Busch Stadium.
It was yet another clutch hit in a season full of them for Craig, who has 95 RBIs, tied for second in the league with the Reds' Brandon Phillips. Craig is batting .452 (56-for-124) with runners in scoring position.
"You have to strike a balance between patience and being aggressive," Craig said. "I saw a good pitch to hit, so I was aggressive. It was definitely one of the biggest hits of my career, but I don't rate them."
The slam was set up when Matt Holliday, whose 442-foot blast to left field cut Cincinnati's lead to 4-3 in the bottom of the third, walked on a 3-2 pitch that barely missed the outside corner.
Hoover ruefully recalled those two pitches.
"The pitch to Holliday could have gone either way," he said. "I got too much of the plate to Craig."
Craig's homer pushed St. Louis (77-54) a half-game ahead of the idle Pittsburgh Pirates in the Central. It was also the 11th win in 15 games for the Cardinals, as well as their ninth win in 13 tries this year against Cincinnati (74-58).
Rookie Carlos Martinez (1-1) picked up his first major league win with two innings in relief of another rookie, starter Tyler Lyons. Edward Mujica pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 35th save in 37 chances.
Manny Parra (1-3) absorbed the defeat after walking Matt Carpenter, the go-ahead run, to load the bases in the seventh. Starter Mike Leake, Parra and Hoover were all victimized in a five-run seventh that erased Cincinnati's 5-3 lead.
Leake gave up a leadoff single to David Freese and a one-out double to pinch hitter Carlos Beltran before being replaced by Parra. After the walk to Carpenter, Parra got an infield out from Jon Jay, with Freese scoring to cut the deficit to a run.
That set up the game-changing sequence that dropped the Reds 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis.
"We've seen that too much from Allen this year to think of it as a fluke," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That was a good at-bat by Matt right before the grand slam. He took a tough pitch there. It looked outside."
Cincinnati capitalized on shortstop Daniel Descalso's error in the top of the second for four runs, three unearned. Descalso whiffed on a hard-hit Devin Mesoraco grounder that could have resulted in an inning-ending double play.
Instead, Zack Cozart promptly drilled a two-run triple to right-center, and Todd Frazier followed three batters later with another two-run triple. Prior to that hit, a liner that center fielder Jay dived for and missed, Frazier was 1-for-39 against St. Louis pitching this year.
Lyons shut the Reds down after that, retiring the last 10 men he faced. He allowed just three hits and two walks over five innings in his first start since July 30, fanning seven.
Leake yielded seven hits and five runs in 6 1/3 innings, but he was in line for his 12th win until Hoover missed with one pitch and didn't miss Craig's bat with the next pitch.
"It wasn't a popup and it didn't hit the ground," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "It was devastating."
NOTES: Cincinnati has had great difficulty winning games in St. Louis over the last decade, capturing just three of its last 29 series under the Gateway Arch. Its only series wins in that span were in May 2003, June 2006 and September 2011. ... The Cardinals collected a double in their 17th consecutive game, a season high. They have 68 two-baggers for the month, only the fifth time since 1946 that they've topped 60 in August. ... Cozart added an RBI double in the sixth, giving him eight RBIs in his past four games. He entered the night hitting .103 (4-for-39) in his career at Busch Stadium.