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STL@CIN: Latos fans five over seven strong innings

CINCINNATI -- Mat Latos did it again.

Facing the Cardinals for the third time this season, Latos delivered yet another solid outing, guiding the Reds to a 4-2 win in front of a sellout crowd of 40,740 at Great American Ball Park on Saturday.

"That's a great lineup," Latos said. "They used to kick the crap out of me pretty good, but this year I've adjusted to them."

Latos -- who allowed just one earned run in 12 innings in his first two starts against St. Louis -- was effective, though not quite as dominant, on Saturday.

All eight Cardinals position players got a hit off Latos, as David Freese (18 games), Matt Carpenter (17 games), Allen Craig (12 games) and Carlos Beltran (nine games) all extended their hitting streaks by the fourth inning. Craig's hit came in the third inning on a two-out infield single -- a slow roller up the middle -- that gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. Latos, however, didn't allow another run. He struck out five, walked none and threw 66 of his 97 pitches for strikes.

"Every time we face him, he pitches different," Beltran said of Latos. "One day it seems like he throws a lot of cutters, sliders inside. Some days it's just fastball, curveball away. He's mixing it up pretty good. Today, to me, he threw me sliders, backdoor. Normally, I don't see those pitches from him, but he was keeping me off balance."

Latos now has a career 3.02 ERA in Cincinnati -- the lowest among pitchers with at least 10 starts at Great American Ball Park.

"In San Diego, I could whip sliders down the middle and pitch up in the zone and get away with it for the most part," Latos said. "Here, you can't do that. You can't have lapses."

Catcher Devin Mesoraco offered an even simpler explanation.

"The guy can pitch," Mesoraco said. "It's not any kind of crazy, different thing that he does here. He just goes out there and executes. I think you could put him in Williamsport [Pa., home of the Little League World Series] and he's going to be a pretty good pitcher."

Whatever it is, the Reds will take it.

One night after watching the Cardinals pound 16 hits, score nine runs and take a season-high four-game lead in the National League Central standings, Latos' start couldn't have come at a better time.

The Reds' offense, meanwhile, finally showed signs of life. Cincinnati had been outscored 31-8 in its previous six games against the Cardinals, failing to score more than two runs in any game.

Saturday was different.

Jay Bruce and Mesoraco both hit solo home runs off St. Louis starter Tyler Lyons, who allowed four runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Bruce's solo shot tied the game at 1 in the second, while Mesoraco's tied the game at 2 in the fifth. Bruce's homer traveled 382 feet, Mesoraco's traveled 386.

"It was a fastball out over the plate," Mesoraco said. "I wasn't sure if it was going to go out or not, but it had just enough."

Derrick Robinson, who was moved to second in the order before the game, led off the sixth with his first career double. Joey Votto doubled him home three pitches later, and Mesoraco's bases-loaded RBI single capped the scoring at 4-2.

Mesoraco seemed more excited about his single than his homer.

"I was pretty fired up," he said. "I haven't had great success up until that point this year with guys on base, so to come through in that situation, that was a good moment for me."

The defense also chipped in, as Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo both made dazzling, warning-track catches in the sixth inning. Choo robbed Yadier Molina of at least a double, while Bruce made a leaping grab near the wall to rob Freese of a potential homer.

"He amazed me with that catch," Latos said of Bruce. "I didn't even know what to say when I was out there on the mound."

The Reds had several opportunities to blow the game open, but couldn't cash in. They left the bases loaded in both the sixth and the seventh.

"I was hoping we could've blown it open," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We've got to find a way, especially against offensive teams, to pick up those RBIs. You're really putting a lot of pressure on your pitching staff to have to come through."

They did.

Aroldis Chapman allowed two hitters to reach, but notched his 16th save of the season. Even more important, perhaps, Jonathan Broxton pitched a scoreless eighth inning -- a welcome sight for the Reds. Broxton has coughed up the lead in three starts by Latos (6-0), who hasn't lost since Game 5 of last year's NLDS to the Giants and 20 regular-season starts.

The Reds have won eight of Latos' last nine starts.

"That's just Mat," Mesoraco said. "He's a very high-quality pitcher, and he knows it."

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