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Reds move to season-high 11 games over .500

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Javier Valentin watched the ball leave his bat
and fly right toward second baseman Aaron Miles, giving the
pinch-hitter a momentary fright.

The way the Cincinnati Reds are playing, he should have known
better.

Valentin's liner cleared the drawn-in infield and drove in the
winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday, sending the
Reds to a 3-2 victory and a two-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was going straight to the second baseman," Valentin said,
amazed by what had happened. "Then it went like this."

Valentin made a curve with his hand, simulating the way the ball
dodged Miles' glove by mere inches before landing safely on the
outfield grass.

"It found a hole," Valentin said. "It's good enough for me."

Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion added solo homers for the Reds
(19-8), who overtook the defending World Series champion Chicago
White Sox for best record in the majors.

"We can play with anybody," Valentin said. "If we continue to
play the way we're playing now, we're going to be there."

He meant the playoffs, of course, a place the Reds haven't been
in 11 years. They haven't even had a winning record the last five
years, their deepest such slump in a half-century.

It's going to take a lot more to get them back to the postseason
-- the rotation is still a concern, and the bullpen is still
inconsistent. But by taking two of three from the Astros and then
the two-game series from St. Louis, the Reds felt a little
confidence coming on.

"When you face the two best teams in the division, it means a
lot to win four out of five," manager Jerry Narron said.

Austin Kearns started the winning rally with a leadoff single
off Brian Falkenborg (0-1), who was called up from Triple-A Memphis
before the game. The right-hander hit Brandon Phillips with his
next pitch.

After Jason LaRue's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners,
Valentin took two pitches in the dirt, then lined the game-ending
single, raising his fist as he headed for first. Teammates pounded
on him shortly after he touched the base.

Todd Coffey (2-0) struck out John Gall with two runners aboard
in the ninth to keep it tied at 2.

The Cardinals' starting lineup was missing Albert Pujols and Jim
Edmonds. Pujols, who leads the majors with 14 homers and 32 RBI,
irritated his back on a defensive play last week and got a day of
rest -- his first this season.

Edmonds missed four starts last month because of a sore shoulder
and hasn't done much at the plate. He pinch-hit in the seventh
against Rick White with two runners aboard and flied out, dropping
his average to .208.

The scaled-down lineup was a huge benefit for left-hander Dave
Williams, who has been the Reds' least-effective starter. Williams,
obtained from Pittsburgh in the offseason trade for Sean Casey,
brought a gaudy 9.53 ERA into the game.

His toughest out on the Cardinals? Pujols is 7-for-19 off the
left-hander with three homers.

"If he wants to take his day off the day I pitch, I'm fine with
that," Williams said.

It didn't appear to matter at the outset. David Eckstein and
Gall opened the game with singles, and Scott Spiezio's single made
it 1-0.

Juan Encarnacion homered in the third, his third homer in three
games, for a 2-0 lead. Williams then settled in and didn't give up
another run in his 6 2-3 innings.

Right-hander Sidney Ponson blanked the NL's highest-scoring
offense -- six runs per game -- until Dunn hit a solo homer off the
right-field foul screen in the sixth and Edwin Encarnacion followed
with a tying homer.

It was a familiar script for Ponson, who blanked the Nationals
last Thursday before giving up a pair of seventh-inning runs in a
6-2 win.

"Like I said after my last start, it's how you finish," Ponson
said. "And I didn't finish good. I allowed two home runs that cost
us the game."

Game notes
The Cardinals optioned OF Skip Schumaker to Memphis. ... C
Yadier Molina snapped an 0-for-16 slump with a sixth-inning single.
... Molina also picked Ryan Freel off first base. He has picked
four Reds off first base in the last two seasons. ... The Reds put
OF Cody Ross on the 15-day DL with a bruised finger. OF Chris
Denorfia was called up from Triple-A Louisville. ... Ken Griffey
Jr. will stay in Cincinnati while the Reds travel to Colorado for a
two-game series. He's eligible to come off the disabled list, but
hasn't fully recovered from an inflamed tendon behind his right
knee.