Reds Drop Opener To Cardinals

CINCINNATI (AP) - Albert Pujols ended the St. Louis Cardinals'

longest homer drought in three years with a two-run shot that

landed in the front row, and left-hander Jaime Garcia pitched into

the seventh inning in another Fernando-like appearance, beating the

Cincinnati Reds 4-3 on Friday night.

Ryan Ludwick added a two-run shot off Aaron Harang (2-5) that

also barely cleared the wall, sparking an offense that hadn't

homered in the last nine games.

Garcia (4-2) has gone at least six innings and given up two or

fewer earned runs in all seven starts. It's the best such opening

streak by a rookie since the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela created

Fernando-mania by opening the 1981 season with eight such games.

The 23-year-old Garcia had a delayed start to his big league

career. He was promoted in 2008, but needed reconstructive surgery

little more than a month later.

Back in good health, Garcia hadn't given up a homer all season

until Drew Stubbs connected on a two-run shot in the seventh,

cutting it to 4-2. Garcia gave up only five hits in 6 1-3 innings

and left with a 1.42 ERA.

Stubbs drove in a run in the ninth by hitting into a forceout

against Ryan Franklin, who picked up his eighth save in nine tries

by getting Ramon Hernandez to ground into a double play.

St. Louis' slump-busting win opened baseball's Civil Rights

weekend, honoring those who have worked for equality. Willie Mays,

Billie Jean King and Harry Belafonte will receive Major League

Baseball's Beacon awards at a luncheon Saturday.

The defending NL Central champions arrived in a deep rut, having

dropped seven of nine. The Cardinals have been either tied for

first or there alone every day this season, but the Reds had

whittled their lead to a half-game by winning five in a row.

One more win would put Cincinnati in first, a place where it

hasn't been so late in a season since June 8, 2006. The Cardinals'

MVP made sure it didn't happen.

Pujols ended the Reds' streak of 21 scoreless innings with a

drive that barely cleared the wall in center during the third

inning, his first homer since April 25. Two innings later, Ludwick

hit his two-run shot to right field, one that barely eluded Jay

Bruce's reach. The outfielder slammed his glove on the track in

frustration at his near-miss, drawing a smile from Harang.

NOTES: The teams will wear replica 1947 caps and jerseys

Saturday, honoring the year Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color

barrier. ... The Cardinals are 5-2 against the Reds this season.

... St. Louis has 87 homers at Great American, second-most by a

visiting team (the Cubs have 88 in the same number of games). ...

Ludwick and Matt Holliday extended their hitting streaks to seven

games each. Ludwick finished with three hits. ... Cincinnati's

scoreless-inning streak was its longest since 2000, when the

pitching staff threw 25 scoreless innings in a row.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)