CINCINNATI — Moments after Jay Bruce caught a routine fly for the final out, the public address announcer called everyone's attention to the standings board behind the right-field seats, the one that was about to reflect a seismic shift in the NL Central.
Finally, the Cardinals had been knocked off their perch.
Scott Rolen homered and drove in three runs, and Bronson Arroyo pitched a complete game and drove in two more Sunday, leading the surging Cincinnati Reds to a 7-2 victory that ended St. Louis' long run as the division's top team.
The Cardinals had been in first place since July 31. The defending champions opened a five-game lead before going into a pronounced downturn, losing nine of their last 12.
Now, for the first time since the middle of last season, they're looking up.
"If it had been the last game of the season and we fell out of first place, it would be a big deal," said NL MVP Albert Pujols, who was 0 for 3. "We're in second place. It's better than being in last place. If we were in last place, we'd be concerned."
In Cincinnati, they're a little giddy.
Alerted by an announcer, the 26,712 rain-soaked fans pointed at the NL Central standings board and cheered when it reflected the change at the top after the final out. The Reds moved into a half-game lead by winning seven of eight.
Cincinnati hasn't been in first place this deep into a season since June 8, 2006.
"The Cards have been in the playoffs," Arroyo said. "They're not panicking. It's not a big deal for them. It's a bigger deal for us."
Rolen hit a two-run homer and a run-scoring single off Brad Penny (3-4), who had never lost at Great American Ball Park. Arroyo (3-2) pitched out of a bases-loaded, none-out threat in the fifth by giving up only a run. Jason LaRue later hit a solo homer, one of seven hits off Arroyo.
The right-hander pitched his first complete game of the season — 10th of his career — and added a bases-loaded single.
Cincinnati took two of three during baseball's Civil Rights weekend series, playing like contenders in front of bigger-than-usual crowds that finally had something to cheer.
"You've got to enjoy the moment — enjoy May 16th," manager Dusty Baker said. "My dad always said, 'Enjoy today because tomorrow isn't promised to anybody.'"
The move into first place was a long-awaited moment for the Reds, who are trying to break a nine-year losing streak. They improved to a season-high five games over .500 at 21-16 by beating the Cardinals at their own game: solid pitching, impeccable defense and balanced offense.
"Their hitters were on, their pitcher was on," manager Tony La Russa said. "They just beat us."
During the eight-game surge, Cincinnati's staff has a 1.88 earned run average. The Reds haven't committed an error in their last 11 games, their best such streak since 1997. And they've been squeezing the most out of their hits, leading the majors in getting runners from first to third with a single.
The breakthrough win came against a pitcher who had always been at his best in Great American, one of the majors' most homer-friendly ballparks. Penny was 5-0 in six career starts, allowing only eight earned runs in all. He gave up nearly that many — seven — in only five innings on Sunday. Cincinnati's 13 hits were one shy of Penny's career high for a game.
"Everything fell for them today," Penny said.
Rolen hit an opposite-field homer to right, his seventh, for a 2-0 lead in the first inning. The Reds opened the third with three consecutive singles, including Rolen's off-the-handle hit to right for a 3-0 lead. Jonny Gomes added a sacrifice fly. Arroyo, a .063 hitter, broke it open with a bases-loaded single in the fifth.