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08/09/06 12:57 AM ET

Freel helps Reds bounce back

Right fielder scores three runs, adds diving catch in rout

CINCINNATI -- The Reds' 17 hits against the Cardinals were certainly nice.

So was their rebound from Monday's rout by St. Louis.

Eric Milton's solid pitching was a positive, too.

But one defensive play had everyone talking.

It had to be a good one considering it stood out far and above all else during a lopsided 10-3 Cincinnati win over the Cardinals on Tuesday night.

With the Reds leading, 4-1, in the top of the fifth, the Cardinals began the inning with back-to-back singles off Milton and brought slugger Albert Pujols to the plate as a the potential tying run.

Pujols lined an opposite-field drive towards right-center field. Running several yards to his right at full speed, Freel made a spectacular diving catch on the warning track.

"At first when it was hit, I really didn't think I had a chance," said Freel, who also had three hits and scored two runs in the game. "I was still running steady hard to try and catch it."

"It was as good a catch as you're ever going to see," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "I'm sure SportsCenter will have it No. 1 on Web Gems."

Most importantly, the play robbed Pujols of extra bases and likely saved two runs.

"Who knows what happens if that ball gets in the gap," said left fielder Adam Dunn, who was 2-for-4 with three RBIs. "At the time, it was very huge."

"That changed the game right there," Milton said. "The momentum totally turns around. That's pretty much what won the game for us. That's a gift out. It's like he gave me a Christmas present right there. It was a huge weight off your shoulders. After that, the crowd just picked you up and the adrenaline starts kicking in. It was deafening."

A sold-out crowd of 40,094 fans at Great American Ball Park was also impressed. It gave Freel a standing ovation following the play and more cheers when the play was shown on the video board. Another standing ovation greeted him when he came up to bat in the seventh inning.

"It was phenomenal," Freel said. "It was one of the most enjoyable games I've had, and that's because of the crowd. I don't think they realize how big they are to this team. I tipped my hat a couple of times, and it still wasn't enough. That's a good feeling."

A Scott Spiezio RBI single came with two outs in the fifth but Milton (8-7) got out of the inning and St. Louis never had another meaningful rally. The left-hander allowed two runs -- one earned -- and five hits over six innings. In his third consecutive quality start, he walked four and struck out three.

It was a big pick-up for the Reds bullpen, which was taxed in Monday's 13-1 blowout loss. Long reliever Ryan Franklin threw 4 1/3 innings then, and Milton was working without backup.

"If something would have happened early in the ballgame, our bullpen would have been in a mess," Narron said. "We had a bullpen full of one-inning guys basically. To get six innings was outstanding."

Cincinnati knocked out Cardinals starter Jason Marquis (12-10) after it scored four runs in 2 2/3 innings. It was a 1-1 game when Rich Aurilia led off the Reds' second inning with a home run to left field. The Reds collected four hits and a walk in an eight-batter bottom of the third and added two more runs.

The game was blown open in the Reds' seventh. Edwin Encarnacion was intentionally walked with one out and loaded the bases for Dunn, who smoked a two-run single to right field. Aurilia's third RBI of the game followed on a sacrifice fly. Three more runs scored in the eighth inning.

The Reds evened the four-game series with first-place St. Louis at one game each and trail by 3 1/2 games in the National League Central race. Cincinnati stayed even with Los Angeles in the Wild Card race. The Dodgers beat the Rockies, 4-2, on Tuesday.

"That's what kind of team we have here," Freel said. "We didn't hang our heads and come in the next day. We came here and battled. We showed what kind of makeup we have."

Freel, batting .301 in 97 games, has assumed the bulk of right field duties since last month's trade of Austin Kearns. Against the Braves on Friday, the utility player made another stunning warning track dive on a foul ball near the wall.

"I thought the play he made against Atlanta in foul ground was the best play I've ever seen," Narron said. "That might have topped it tonight. It's huge to have him in the lineup every night. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy and out there. Just the way he plays the game, he gives himself up."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.