ST. LOUIS -- When the Reds really needed it most, Bronson Arroyo pitched a superb game. So far this season, even that hadn't always been good enough.But it was sufficient on Thursday during a 6-3 Reds victory over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Arroyo pitched eight innings and got the backup from the lineup that his start deserved. It gave him his first win of the season and the rotation its first "W" since Opening Day. "Just as a staff for the five guys, we've been toeing the rubber and throwing the ball pretty decent and have not been able to pull out victories for ourselves or the team," Arroyo said. "It's huge definitely. We're still early in the season, but you want to get the ball rolling -- and if you do what you're supposed to do out there, you have a chance to win, and the club is in support of that. Today, that all fell into place." Arroyo gave up three runs and five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. His only blemish came in the sixth, when Matt Holliday hit a three-run home run. For the third straight series, Cincinnati was facing a potential sweep and needed a victory before leaving town. "Another happy flight," said left fielder Ryan Ludwick, who hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning that gave the Reds a 3-0 lead. In the top of the fourth inning, with one out against Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, Brandon Phillips hit a 1-0 pitch into the left-field seats for a solo homer, his first of the season. After a Jay Bruce single, Ludwick sent a first pitch into the left-field bullpen for a two-run homer. Following Wainwright's two-out walk to Joey Votto in the fifth inning, Phillips struck again with an RBI single to right field that scored Zack Cozart and made it 4-0. They were Phillips' first two RBIs of the season. "To jump out to the lead and actually be ahead for once the whole game was very nice," said center fielder Drew Stubbs, who added a two-out solo homer in the seventh against Victor Marte. "Stuff like this is often what kick starts a run you go on." The lead permitted Arroyo to be more aggressive, which showed as he threw 66 of his 90 pitches for strikes. He now has a 2.91 ERA through three starts, and he looks stronger compared to the disastrous season of 2011, during which he had mononucleosis while going 9-12 with a 5.07 ERA. "Really all the three times I've been out, I've been pounding the zone with strikes probably more than I have my whole career," Arroyo said. "I haven't been throwing a lot of balls. "Coming out of spring, I was relatively healthy. My back feels good, my arm feels pretty good. I'm at least giving myself a chance to get off on the right foot." Arroyo retired 14 of his first 17 batters while giving up only two singles. "Same thing he always does. He just doesn't throw any fastballs in fastball counts," Holliday said about Arroyo. "He mixes it up slow, slow and slower and then mixes his fastball in there. He had us off balance and was able to minimize damage." St. Louis had back-to-back one-out singles against Arroyo in the bottom of the sixth inning. That set up the slumping Holliday, who sent a first pitch to left field for a three-run homer. He entered the at-bat in an 0-for-11 funk and had been 5 for his last 34. The Reds responded with Stubbs' homer in the seventh inning and Votto's two-out RBI single in the top of the ninth. "When Holliday hit that home run, we came back and put some more runs on the board. So we battled," Ludwick said. Arroyo recovered well from the homer and retired his final eight batters in order. Despite having a low pitch count, and batting for himself in a sacrifice situation in the bottom of the eighth, there was no thought to send Arroyo back for the ninth inning. "The guys they had coming up were some dangerous dudes," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "One of them was Holliday, who hit him out of the ballpark. That was enough." Sean Marshall gave up Holliday's rolling single through the right side before striking out the side for his second save.
Besides salvaging a series and getting that getaway-day victory, Baker considered it to be important for another reason. It kept the 9-4 Cardinals from stretching their lead in the National League Central."We could have been six out, and instead we are four out," said Baker, whose club is 5-8. "It doesn't sound like much, but when you're getting close to the finish line, you don't know which game can be the one to get you over the hump." The win also put the Reds at 2-5 on the road trip, and it's conceivable to finish it at .500 if they can sweep the struggling Cubs on the third and final leg. "When it ends it on a high note and carries a little confidence to the next spot, it's huge for a team," Stubbs said.