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CIN@STL: Beltran launches a two-run homer to right

ST. LOUIS -- As the Cardinals have climbed to the top of the National League in several offensive categories, a pair of trends has emerged. They've scored in bunches. And they've often scored first.

Both held true during the club's offensive blitzes on Wednesday night. Not only did the Cardinals pounce out to an early lead, but they also enjoyed four separate multi-run innings on their way to clobbering the Reds, 11-1, in front of 35,907.

With it, St. Louis clinched another series win -- its fifth straight - and made a Reds team that many projected to be the Cardinals' toughest divisional competition look less than adequate to keep pace.

"We have a long way to go, and right now," Reds manager Dusty Baker said, "they are playing at the top of their game."

Reds starter Mat Latos was also rapidly reminded of how unpleasant Busch Stadium has been for him. Latos, who will see this venue much more regularly now that he's in the division, entered the night having allowed 15 runs in his previous two starts (5 1/3 innings) in St. Louis. By the end of the second inning on Wednesday, he had already dug his club a 5-0 hole.

For the ninth time in 12 games, the Cardinals beat their opponent to the scoreboard. It took hardly any time, either, as St. Louis pushed across three runs before Latos recorded his second out. Rafael Furcal led off with a double, which Carlos Beltran followed with his team-leading eighth walk.

Lance Berkman drove home the first with a well-place infield squibbler. David Freese then cleared the bases with a two-run double, increasing his RBI total to 13.

"I take a lot of pride in that," Freese said. "Guys get on base in front you, you have to bring them in."

An inning later, Beltran padded the lead with a two-out, two-run home run. It was Beltran's team-best fifth homer and his second in as many days. He hadn't gone deep in consecutive games since 2008, when he did so for the Mets against the Dodgers on the last day of May and then again on June 1.

The hit also improved Beltran to 3-for-3 -- all home runs -- off Latos.

"He's a guy who is going to be aggressive," Beltran said of Latos. "When you face a guy who is aggressive and you're being patient, that's not a good matchup for you as a hitter. Every time I face him, I like to be aggressive."

Latos downplayed Beltran's small sample size of success.

"The guy swings, he ambushes," Latos said. "It is what it is. It's not like he's reading my mind."

Latos served up another trio of runs in the sixth, two of which scored on a triple by starter Jaime Garcia. Furcal also drove home a run in the inning with one of his four hits. He has now tallied at least three hits in four of his 11 starts.

The Cards piled on three more runs in the eighth -- their third three-run inning of the night -- and finished with 14 hits. They've recorded at least a dozen hits in half of their 12 games, and six of the club's nine victories have come by a margin of at least four runs.

Asked about the depth and potential of this lineup, Beltran grinned. "It's fun," he replied.

The night wasn't monopolized by the offense, though, as Garcia provided plenty of highlights on the mound, too. He redeemed himself after being unable to finish five innings in a start against Cincinnati last week. He scattered seven hits -- just one for extra bases -- in a seven-inning outing which required only 89 pitches.

Garcia said that he approached the Reds' offense similar to how he did last time. He did so, though, with the benefit of noticeably more movement on his pitches.

"It was a lot better execution today when I needed to make pitches," Garcia said. "It's a good lineup. You just want to go out there and pitch your game. When somebody got on base, I trusted my sinker."

That pitch led to four double plays, which kept the Reds from seriously threatening despite having at least one baserunner in each of Garcia's seven innings. Cincinnati managed to advance only two runners past first.

Garcia became the fourth Cardinals starter to begin the year with a 2-0 record. The team's starters have a combined 2.72 ERA, and their eight rotation wins are matched only by the Rangers.

The only thing to sour the night was the premature exit made by Berkman, who was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the fifth. Trying to track a foul popup, Berkman aggravated a left calf injury that had cost him recent playing time. He noted afterward that a move to the disabled list is now a possibility.

While the Cardinals hope not to be without their cleanup hitter for long, they've so far shown the depth to be able to handle even a key absence.

"I know he's frustrated with his calf, but he'll bounce back and get it right this time," Freese said. "We have plenty of guys who can fill in and get the job done."

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