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08/11/10 1:50 AM ET

Wild night ends with Reds falling to Cards

Mistakes prove costly after benches clear in first inning

CINCINNATI -- It was ugly on Tuesday for the Reds, and we're not just talking about the scrape they had behind home plate with the Cardinals.

No, it was also the defense that made three errors and some other random mistakes that sent Cincinnati to an 8-4 loss before 36,494 fans at Great American Ball Park.

"We did not play good baseball," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We played uncharacteristically poor defense tonight, which we usually don't do."

A highly anticipated National League Central showdown for the Reds has become back-to-back losses that have now put the Reds (64-50) percentage points behind the Cardinals (63-49). After being unbeaten in seven previous series since the All-Star break, the Reds will try to avoid being swept on Wednesday afternoon.

The night started chaotically because of a home-plate scuffle between the Reds' leadoff batter, Brandon Phillips, and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina before the bottom of the first inning started. As the two exchanged words, stemming from comments Phillips previously made about the Cardinals, the benches cleared and the fracas spread to the backstop. Both managers were ejected once order was restored following a seven-minute delay.

But calm had not come over Reds starter Johnny Cueto (11-3), who became integral in the skirmish as he was pinned to the backstop and kicking players to get out. His performance would suffer, as he finished with five runs (four earned) and seven hits allowed over 5 1/3 innings with no walks and four strikeouts.

"I wanted to do a little too much after [the fracas]," said Cueto, who was 5-0 with a 1.55 ERA over his previous eight starts "I was trying to throw harder maybe, and trying to be so perfect. After that, you want to beat the other team so bad. I was trying to do a little too much."

Perennial contenders, the Cardinals played like they've been around a few of these contentious August games while the Reds at times looked lost.

It was a 2-2 game in the sixth inning when the Cardinals scored three runs against Cueto. Albert Pujols led off with a single and scored on Matt Holliday's double to the left-field wall, where Jonny Gomes fell down retrieving the ball. Colby Rasmus followed with a double down the right-field line that scored Holliday and went to third base on Chris Heisey's error. Molina's sacrifice fly gave St. Louis a 5-2 lead.

Two walks in the bottom of the sixth by Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia (10-5) led to a pair of Reds runs on Drew Stubbs' two-out single with the bases loaded that made it a one-run game. However, the rally died when Jim Edmonds was thrown out after he overstepped second base and could not scamper back.

Otherwise, Cardinals pitching kept the Reds down, as they notched only six singles all night. The St. Louis bullpen worked 3 2/3 scoreless innings.

St. Louis added on three more runs in the seventh. After Pujols was intentionally walked to load the bases, Holliday singled into left field, scoring two runs. Gomes' throw sailed over the plate for an error and pitcher Logan Ondrusek bobbled the ball as he backed up. Ondrusek tried to get Holliday at second base, which allowed Pujols to score when Phillips' throw back to the plate was dropped by Ramon Hernandez.

They were the first runs Ondrusek allowed in 20 appearances, totaling 22 innings. The Reds are now 5-9 in the season series with St. Louis.

As for the two principals that started the incident that cleared the benches, Phillips was 1-for-5 and made the final out of the game with a groundout. He is 1-for-10 in the series. Molina loomed larger during the game with two hits and two RBIs, including a solo home run in the top of the second that gave St. Louis a 2-0 lead.

"We're all human," Reds third baseman Scott Rolen said. "We have emotions. You don't know how different people respond to different things. We talk about the fight. The real thing that mattered is they beat us, 8-4. What happened before wasn't the biggest deal of the night. The biggest deal is we're even now and we're going to come back, keep playing and try to win tomorrow."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.