St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Brad Penny, left, talks with catcher Jason LaRue (21) in the third inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Sunday, May 16, 2010, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) By Al Behrman
St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols looks up at the scoreboard as he runs off the field after grounding out against the Cincinnati Reds in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 16, 2010, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) By Al Behrman
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo (61) is congratulated by catcher Ryan Hanigan after throwing a complete baseball game to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-2 on Sunday, May 16, 2010, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) By Al Behrman
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Scott Rolen homered and drove in three runs Sunday, leading the surging Cincinnati Reds to a 7-2 victory that swatted the St. Louis Cardinals off their accustomed perch atop the NL Central.
Cincinnati has moved into a half-game lead by winning seven of eight. The Reds haven't been in first place this deep into a season since June 8, 2006.
St. Louis had been in first place since July 31. The defending champions opened a five-game lead before going into a pronounced downturn, losing nine of their last 12.
Rolen hit a two-run homer and a run-scoring single off Brad Penny (3-4), who had never lost at Great American Ball Park. Bronson Arroyo (3-2) pitched his first complete game -- a seven-hitter -- and added a bases-loaded single.
Arroyo pitched out of a bases-loaded, none-out threat in the fifth by giving up only a run. Jason LaRue later hit a solo homer. It was Arroyo's 10th career complete game.
Cincinnati took two of three during baseball's Civil Rights weekend series, playing like contenders for a change.
The move into first place was a long-awaited moment for the Reds, who are trying to break a nine-year losing streak. They improved to a season-high five games over .500 at 21-16 by beating the Cardinals at their own game -- solid pitching, impeccable defense and balanced offense.
During the eight-game surge, Cincinnati's staff has a 1.88 earned run average. The Reds haven't committed an error in their last 11 games, their best such streak since 1997. And they've been squeezing the most out of their hits, leading the majors in getting runners from first to third with a single.
The breakthrough win came against a pitcher who had always been at his best in Great American, one of the majors' most homer-friendly ballparks. Penny was 5-0 in six career starts, allowing only eight earned runs in all. He gave up nearly that many -- seven -- in only five innings on Sunday. Cincinnati's 13 hits were one shy of Penny's career high for a game.
Rolen hit an opposite-field homer to right, his seventh, for a 2-0 lead in the first inning. The Reds opened the third with three consecutive singles, including Rolen's off-the-handle hit to right for a 3-0 lead. Jonny Gomes added a sacrifice fly. Arroyo, a .063 hitter, broke it open with a bases-loaded single in the fifth.
NOTES: Rain fell off and on starting in the fifth inning. ... St. Louis returns home for a seven-game stand against Washington, Florida and the Angels. ... The Reds complete their homestand with two games against Milwaukee. ... The Reds went 13 games without an error in 1997. Cincinnati leads the NL in fielding percentage.
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