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Ross' walk-off homer inches Reds closer to Cardinals

CINCINNATI (AP) -- David Ross hit the pitch so squarely that he
didn't even feel it leave the bat.

The next few seconds felt surreal, too.

Ross' ninth-inning drive off St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen landed on the roof of the batter's eye in center
field, a two-run homer that carried the Cincinnati Reds to an 8-7
victory Wednesday night that tightened the NL Central race.

It left knots in some stomachs, too.

"This team has a flair for the dramatic," Ross said.

Down to their last two outs, the Reds pulled it out for a 2-1
lead in the series, which concludes Thursday afternoon.
Second-place Cincinnati moved to 2½ games behind the Cardinals,
whose top starter and closer got rocked by homers.

Chris Carpenter gave up three solo shots in seven innings, the
first time in more than two years that he allowed three in a game.
St. Louis almost overcame it.

Jim Edmonds hit a grand slam, and David Eckstein's tiebreaking
single in the eighth put the Cardinals up 7-6 and put Carpenter in
line for the win.

Isringhausen (3-5), who entered with one out in the eighth, came
out on the bad end of the last-swing drama -- Cincinnati's fifth
game-ending homer this season.

He walked Rich Aurilia with one out in the ninth, only the
second walk by St. Louis pitchers in the game. Ross, who stayed in
the game after pinch-hitting in the seventh, then hit a high
fastball onto the roof of the batter's eye, a 442-foot shot that
made the capacity crowd delirious.

Ross slapped hands with first base coach Billy Hatcher before
rounding the bases, then flung his batting helmet over the crowd of
wide-mouthed teammates at the plate before stepping on it.

"You round third and you see those guys waiting there to beat
on you," Ross said. "That's why I threw the helmet off. They can
bang on that thing and snap your neck. I don't know if I'll sleep
tonight."

Ryan Franklin (2-5), acquired in a trade on Monday, pitched a
perfect ninth for the win.

Things have gone that way all season for the NL Central's top
two teams. The defending champion Cardinals have a pair of
eight-game losing streaks, preventing them from putting Cincinnati
away.

"The last couple of years, we won 100 and ran away with the
division," said Isringhausen, who is 29-of-37 in save chances.
"This year, we're not playing as well. Hopefully we'll grind it
out, come out on top, and that will make us better at playoff
time."

The Reds have been up-and-down all season as well, but managed
to stay in contention by taking care of the Cardinals head-to-head.
Cincinnati is up 8-3 in the season series, which concludes next
week with three games in St. Louis.

"I know it's going to be a lot of fun, no matter what," Reds
manager Jerry Narron said. "It's a big game any time you're
playing a first-place team."

In a high-stakes game of home run derby, the Reds got the most
meaningful ones. Eleven runs scored on homers -- two by the
Cardinals, four by Cincinnati.

Carpenter gave up solo shots to Adam Dunn, Scott Hatteberg and
Edwin Encarnacion, his first three-homer game since July 30, 2004.
Carpenter also gave up a two-run double by Brandon Phillips that
tied it at six in the sixth inning.

Half of Cincinnati's eight hits cleared the wall.

"There was a lot of damage in those eight hits," Cardinals
manager Tony La Russa said.

The Reds drew their second consecutive capacity crowd -- their
sixth overall this season -- for the matchup of contenders and a
Davey Concepcion bobblehead giveaway. The club handed out 5,000
vouchers because it received fewer than the 40,000 bobbleheads that
it ordered.

The first two games of the series were blowouts -- 13-1 by St.
Louis, 10-3 by the Reds. In this one, a pair of No. 1 starters had
trouble keeping their pitches down.

Edmonds hit his sixth career slam in the first inning off Aaron Harang, who didn't allow a homer in his two previous starts against
the Cardinals this season. It was Edmonds' first grand slam since
April 21, 2004, at Houston.

Scott Spiezio, who got into the game when third baseman Scott Rolen left with back spasms, hit a two-run homer that made it 6-3.

Game notes
Cardinals LHP Mark Mulder, on the DL since June 21 with a
sore shoulder, is scheduled to make his second rehab start on
Friday for Triple-A Memphis. He threw five innings for Class-A Quad
Cities on Sunday. ... Rolen is day-to-day. He struck out and popped
out in his two at-bats before leaving the game. ... RHP Braden Looper is expected to miss at least a couple of games with a sore
back. He had to come out of Tuesday night's game after throwing a
pitch.