Phillips’ belts walk-off homer to edge Cards

Published 11:35 pm Saturday, July 16, 2011

CINCINNATI (AP) — Brandon Phillips thought about re-enacting a celebration from the movie “Major League” and rounding the bases with bat in hand.

No need. He’d provided enough drama already.

Phillips hit a two-out, two-run homer off Fernando Salas in the ninth inning Friday night, rallying the Cincinnati Reds to a 6-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in another wild finish to the NL Central’s nastiest rivalry.

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Phillips connected on the second pitch from Salas (5-3) for his second career game-ending homer, stopping to wave his arms in joy before reaching first base. Phillips injected some ill will into the rivalry last season when he called the Cardinals whiners, sparking a brawl.

Given the circumstances, the second baseman ranked it as his most memorable homer.

“Biggest? Let me go ahead and say yes,” Phillips said. “That’s the biggest one. We’re playing the Cardinals. That’s a great situation for me getting that home run.”

The Reds were on the verge of falling five games behind the Cardinals before Phillips connected. Players formed a circle around home plate, celebrating their first game-ending homer since Ramon Hernandez won their season opener with a ninth-inning homer.

Phillips, who loves theatrics, considered carrying his bat all the way home like a favorite character from “Major League.”

“I wanted to do cartwheels,” he said. “I thought about doing Pedro Cerrano and carrying my bat around the bases. I was trying to keep it classy.”

St. Louis went up 5-4 in the eighth on Albert Pujols’ two-run homer off hard-throwing Aroldis Chapman. But the Cardinals’ closer couldn’t hold on, blowing a save for the third time in 19 chances. His second pitch to Phillips was closer to the middle of the plate than he wanted.

“I just left the ball in the wrong spot,” Salas said, through a coach serving as translator. “He just made a good swing on a pitch I left a little bit out over the plate.”

The sellout crowd of 41,238 reveled in the one-swing finish to a wild game that fit the rivalry. Logan Ondrusek (4-3) got the win.

“To get a walk-off is huge,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Them coming back, us coming back — that was a playoff atmosphere tonight.”

Chris Heisey hit a pair of solo homers for the Reds and robbed Pujols of one in the first inning, snatching his flyball from the top of the wall in center. Johnny Cueto protected the 2-0 lead into the seventh inning.

Then it got wild, just like so many games between these teams.

Phillips, a Gold Glove winner, committed only his third error of the season in the seventh, helping St. Louis rally ahead. Tony Cruz’s pinch-hit RBI single put the Cardinals up 3-2.

Third baseman David Freese’s throwing error let the lead slip away fast. Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart drove in the tying run with an infield single, and Joey Votto’s double put the Reds up 4-3.

Pujols put the Cardinals back ahead by getting the best of a power-vs.-power matchup, hitting a 96 mph fastball from Chapman for a two-run homer in the eighth. It was his 19th homer and his second since returning from a broken left wrist.

Pujols declined to talk after the game.

Both teams slogged through the first half of the season trying to overcome a seemingly nonstop slew of injuries. The Cardinals lost Pujols and Matt Holliday, while the Reds’ rotation and bullpen were in flux. St. Louis handled it better, going into the All-Star break tied with Milwaukee for first place in the NL Central.

Defending champion Cincinnati stumbled into the break in fourth place after closer Francisco Cordero blew three save chances in five days. This time, the Reds overcame another late meltdown.

Heisey started the game with a little sizzle. He caught Pujols’ drive at the top of the wall in center field in the first inning, holding on when his glove smacked the yellow padding. Heisey then had the third leadoff homer of his career off Jake Westbrook — he also had a leadoff homer off him on July 6, when the Reds won 7-6.

Heisey hit another solo shot in the fifth for the second multihomer game of his career.

Notes: The Cardinals expect RF Allen Craig back by Aug. 1. Craig hurt his right knee when he ran into a padded railing while trying to catch a ball on June 7. … The Reds honored their four All-Stars — Votto, Phillips, 3B Scott Rolen and RF Jay Bruce — on the field before the game. … Rolen got his 500th double, joining Hall of Famer George Brett and Chipper Jones as the only 3B with at least 2,000 hits, 500 doubles, 300 homers and 1,200 RBIs. … The Reds put RHP Jose Arredondo on the DL with a sore forearm and recalled LHP Jeremy Horst from Triple-A. … Cozart has hit safely in his first five games.