CINCINNATI -- The Cardinals needed eight pitchers in a dramatic, back-and-forth matchup with a division rival Friday night, and they still came up one out short.
Fernando Salas surrendered a walk-off homer to Brandon Phillips as the Reds stole the first of a three-game set, 6-5, at Great American Ball Park. It was Salas' third blown save of the season, and the 17th blown save overall for the club.
The Cardinals had rallied to take the lead in both the seventh and eighth innings, but each time the bullpen coughed it back up.
"We put a lot of effort and spirit into the game," manager Tony La Russa said. "We got beat. I don't have a lot more to say."
With the Cardinals leading, 5-4, at the beginning of the inning, Salas struck out Chris Heisey before giving up a costly single to Zack Cozart. Joey Votto followed by flying out to right. But, with two outs in the inning, Salas left a 1-0 fastball over the plate. He was trying to stay low and away, but the pitch drifted toward Phillips.
"He was trying to get him out the same way he got the other two guys out," said third-base coach Jose Oquendo, translating for Salas. "He just made a good swing. [Salas] left it a little bit over the plate, and he made a good swing on it."
Jake Westbrook was coming off a nightmarish effort against Cincinnati on July 6, when he allowed five runs in the first and seven overall. But he was much improved this time around, allowing two runs -- both homers by Heisey -- on five hits.
Westbrook had thrown only 82 pitches through five innings, but Reds starter Johnny Cueto was cruising, so La Russa lifted his starter for pinch-hitter Jon Jay in the sixth.
"Last game in St. Louis was just me being up and not making the adjustment quick enough, and they make you pay for it," Westbrook said. "But tonight I was able to get back and find that groove a little bit earlier and make some pitches."
Although nothing came of Jay's at-bat, St. Louis finally did break through the following inning. Managing just two hits through the first six frames, the Cardinals jumped ahead in the seventh against Cueto. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday led off the frame with a pair of singles to left, and Lance Berkman drew a walk to load the bases.
David Freese and Yadier Molina both grounded out, but their at-bats were effective enough to get Pujols and Holliday across. Later, Tony Cruz added a two-out, pinch-hit single to right, scoring Berkman and putting the Cardinals ahead, 3-2.
St. Louis' bullpen coughed the lead back up in the bottom of the frame, in part because of an error by Freese. With a runner on first and no outs, Heisey grounded to third, but Freese's throw to second sailed wide right and ended up in the outfield.
The throw allowed both runners to reach with no outs. Cozart tied the game with an infield single, his first Major League RBI, and Votto put the Reds ahead momentarily with a ground-rule double to right-center.
At the time, the hop over the fence seemed fortuitous for the Cardinals. Cozart, who started from first at the crack of Votto's bat, was rounding third when the play was ruled an automatic two-bagger. Instead, Cincinnati put runners on second and third with no outs, and St. Louis wiggled out of the jam.
After intentionally walking Phillips to load the bases, Trever Miller fooled Jay Bruce into chasing a 1-2 slider. Jason Motte came in to face Scott Rolen, and the former Cardinal -- who hit his 500th career double earlier -- grounded into a 1-2-3 double play to end the threat.
St. Louis reclaimed the lead on what seemed to be the final blow. After Colby Rasmus drew a walk, Pujols lifted a 1-0 fastball from Aroldis Chapman into the left-field seats -- the same area where, one inning later, Phillips would stun St. Louis.
"When we saw that ball going up," Reds manager Dusty Baker said, "that was as exhilarating as it was depressing when we saw Albert's ball leaving the park."
Despite the loss, St. Louis remains in first place in the National League Central, tied with Pittsburgh, which beat Houston on Friday night.
Tyler Jett is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.