CINCINNATI -- Joey Votto fouled off a tough pitch with two strikes, giving himself a chance for one more swing. That's all the National League MVP needed.
Votto's two-out, run-scoring single in the 10th inning completed the Cincinnati Reds' comeback to a 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night, tightening the NL Central race with a flourish.
"There's going to be a lot more games like that between us and the Reds," Cardinals acting manager Joe Pettini said.
The first game of their weekend series certainly met the hype.
The defending NL Central champions moved within a half-game of the first-place Cardinals by overcoming a 5-2 deficit in the late innings. Their best hitter provided the finishing stroke. With 32,972 fans waving white rally towels and chanting "MVP," Votto fouled off a tough two-strike pitch from Jason Motte (1-1) to extend the at-bat and then singled to score Chris Heisey from second base.
"He's a guy that a lot of guys will strike out against," Votto said. "I had two strikes against me, so I was really fighting. I had to fight. I got a pretty good pitch to hit late in the at-bat."
Brandon Phillips' single off Eduardo Sanchez tied it in the ninth, and Votto kept the Reds perfect in four extra-inning games this season. Francisco Cordero (3-1) pitched out of a two-on threat in the ninth, striking out Jon Jay to keep it tied.
This one had a little extra meaning for the Reds, who won the division last season despite going 6-12 against St. Louis, the only team in the division that could handle them. They evened this season's series at two games each with Votto's hit.
"It's like gaining two games," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Instead of being 2½ out, we're only a half-game out. If that's any indication of what's coming up, it's going to be exciting."
St. Louis has won two of its four games while Pettini fills in for manager Tony La Russa, who is recovering from shingles. After Kyle Lohse turned a 5-2 lead over to the bullpen in the seventh, the bench coach got a workout making pitching changes to try to hold on.
Nothing worked for long.
The fans waved those white rally towels handed out at the gates when Sanchez came on to try to preserve the one-run lead in the ninth. The rookie walked Renteria on four pitches and threw a wild pitch. Phillips' single tied it.
It was the first time in five tries that Sanchez failed to hold a lead in the ninth.
Ramon Hernandez started the winning rally in the 10th with a double. He was caught in a lengthy rundown on Heisey's grounder, although Heisey managed to reach second on the play. He scored easily on Votto's single.
Matt Holliday had three hits for the Cardinals, helping them pull ahead 5-2 and raising his batting average to .398, best in the majors.
The Reds scored both their runs off Lohse in the sixth, when Jay Bruce had an RBI single and scored on Scott Rolen's double. Rolen was activated from the disabled list before the game, having recovered from a sore left shoulder and neck, and had three hits.
Tyler Greene made his sixth start at shortstop. Ryan Theriot missed his second game with a sore right side, but Pettini expects him back in the lineup on Saturday. ... The Reds optioned infielder Chris Valaika to Triple-A Louisville to open a roster spot for Rolen. ... Cueto starts for the Reds on Saturday, the first time he's faced the Cardinals since the teams got into a brawl last Aug. 10. Cueto got a seven-game suspension for kicking two Cardinals during the fight.