CINCINNATI — Brandon Phillips' day started with a thrill. Then it got better.
Phillips caught the ceremonial first pitch thrown by Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, then collected three hits to lead the Cincinnati Reds to an 8-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.
"Catching my favorite player's first pitch was an honor," Phillips said about Larkin, who had his No. 11 retired during a pregame ceremony.
Phillips then did a pretty good imitation of the 1995 National League MVP, hitting his first home run in August as the Reds strengthened their hold on the top spot in the National League Central.
Mike Leake pitched effectively into the seventh inning and Jay Bruce added a two-run homer for Cincinnati, which regained a seven-game lead over second-place St. Louis. Ryan Ludwick also had three hits.
The Cardinals rallied to win the series opener 8-5 on Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.
"They're still hungry," Phillips said. "They can hit. You look up at the scoreboard and everybody's hitting .300. I don't know who's making outs for them."
Leake (6-8) allowed at least one hit in every inning except one, but kept the Cardinals mostly at bay. Leake, who also had two hits, lasted six 2-3 innings, allowing 10 hits and two runs.
"They were aggressive, a little more than normal," said Leake, adding that he didn't feel like he gave up 10 hits. "That shocked me. They hit a lot of ground balls. Some found holes."
Leake was never in serious trouble, manager Dusty Baker said.
"He had that at 'em ball going," Baker said. "That's what happens when you throw strikes. That was the start he needed and we needed. We're trying to get him back to .500. He was masterful. We got (the Cardinals) back to where they were when they started from when they came in."
Cincinnati grabbed control with three runs in the sixth inning. Phillips led off with a double down the right-field line and advanced on Ludwick's single to right. Phillips scored when Todd Frazier beat out a potential double-play grounder, and Bruce followed with a 432-foot drive to right for his team-best 27th homer.
The Reds added four more in the seventh after Brandon Dickson retired the first two batters of the inning. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was limited after using five relievers on Friday.
"Dickson couldn't get that putaway pitch," Matheny said. "It was tough leaving him out there that long, but there were a couple guys I had to stay away from."
Phillips drove a full-count pitch just over the wall in right-center for his 14th homer and first since July 31 against San Diego. Scott Rolen's two-run single made it 7-2, and Dioner Navarro chipped in with an RBI single that dropped into left when Matt Holliday lost the ball in the sun.
The Reds grabbed the lead in the third against Jaime Garcia, making his second start since June 5 after missing 64 games with a left shoulder strain. Leake hit a leadoff double and scored on Phillips' two-out single into right field.
The Cardinals got one hit in each of the first four innings against Leake before finally pushing across a run in the fifth. Tony Cruz, Rafael Furcal and Jon Jay singled to load the bases with one out, setting up Matt Carpenter's tying sacrifice fly.
St. Louis added another run in the seventh when Cruz scampered home on Jay's double-play ball.
Garcia (3-5) allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. He entered with a 7-1 record and a 3.12 ERA in nine career starts and two relief appearances against the Reds.
"I felt good coming into the sixth inning," Garcia said. "I left the ball up to Phillips, and I didn't make my pitch to Luddy. The pitch to Bruce was up, and I paid the consequences."