ST. LOUIS -- Chris Carpenter liked what he saw right from the start.
Carpenter took advantage of Cincinnati's free swingers, pitching a three-hitter for his first complete game in more than two years, and Albert Pujols took care of the offense with a two-run homer and RBI double as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Reds 3-1 on Thursday night.
"They showed it from the beginning of the game that they were going to be aggressive early in the count, they weren't going to let me get deep," he said. "I was able to make good quality pitches down in the strike zone. That's what happens when you get an aggressive team that wants to hit and you're able to make quality pitches, you're going to be able to get quick outs."
The victory gave St. Louis a split of the four-game series and put the Cardinals in a tie for first in the National League Central with Milwaukee, which lost to the Florida Marlins.
Carpenter (4-0) needed just 95 pitches for his 26th complete game and first since September 11, 2006, at Houston. With the help of two double plays, he faced the minimum through 7 2/3 innings. Carpenter's ERA rose to 0.71 ERA.
Laynce Nix spoiled the shutout bid with his 18th homer to right field in the eighth.
Since returning from the disabled list May 20 with an oblique injury, Carpenter has allowed three earned runs and 14 hits in 28 innings. For Pujols, it was another Carpenter gem that didn't command too much analysis.
"It's not rocket science," Pujols said. "Look at the job he did. He made one mistake the whole game and Nix is swinging the bat really good, took advantage and hit it out of the park."
Carpenter had retired 12 straight before Nix's hit. He struck out three, walked none and singled in the seventh for his first hit of the year. He gave up singles to Chris Dickerson in the first and third, but got Brandon Phillips to ground into double plays both times to end the inning.
Aaron Harang (5-6) went the distance in losing his second straight. He gave up eight hits, striking out three and walking two in eight innings. He handled the Cardinals well in a 8-3 victory May 9 at Busch, spreading seven hits in seven innings and striking out seven.
This time around, Pujols didn't give Harang a chance to settle in.
"Just the way he's swinging right now," Harang said. "He's being aggressive, he wasn't letting me get any counts on him. He was coming right after me. He knows I'm going to go right at him and I'm not going to nitpick with him. He took advantage of that."
Pujols' 17th homer to left-center came one out after Skip Schumaker singled to lead off the third. He drove in his 48th run of the year with a double off the left-field wall that scored Colby Rasmus in the sixth, marking the fifth consecutive game in which Pujols has doubled.
He has now reached base at least twice in 15 consecutive games to tie Keith Hernandez's streak in 1980. They are the longest such streaks in 50 years for the Cardinals.
The homer came on Harang's first offering of the at-bat.
"It was a good pitch to hit and I put the best swing on it of the day," Pujols said.
The Reds finished their seven-game road trip with a 2-5 record, including a three-game sweep at Milwaukee, putting them 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals and Milwaukee. They return home for a three-game set against Chicago starting Friday before a six-game road trip.
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said there's not reason to dwell on the recent slide.
"You got to move on. You got no choice," he said. "They say good pitching beats good hitting and that was a great pitching performance tonight. Aaron was good, but Carpenter was better."
The last time the Reds played a game in which both starters went the distance was August 26, 2004, when Harang beat Carpenter 1-0. ... Thursday marked Harang's 200th career start and is now 74-72 in his career. ... Jay Bruce finished the Reds' seven-game road trip 1 for 27, hitless in his last 17. ... The Cardinals are 8-0 on Thursdays.