CINCINNATI -- If there's one guarantee in a series between the Reds and the Cardinals, it's the excitement.
While Friday night may not have been the prettiest of games, it certainly didn't lack in the entertainment department, as the Reds mounted a late comeback to top the National League Central-rival Cardinals, 5-3, at Great American Ball Park.
A crowd of 40,217 came out to kick off the second half of the season for the seventh sellout of the year in what Reds manager Dusty Baker said felt like a second Opening Day.
"People are excited," Baker said, "and they should be. And hopefully they stay that way to the end. You play better in front of large crowds, especially at home. This is a big series for them and us. You want to start the second half like this against a team that's chasing you, and hopefully we can put some distance on them this weekend."
The win moves the Reds 2 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Central, and coupled with a Pirates loss, puts Cincinnati in a tie with Pittsburgh for first in the division.
With the recent trend leaning toward dominant starts from the Reds' rotation and subpar run support from the lineup, the club reversed its standard roles.
After 14 consecutive starts without a loss, it looked like it was going to be a long night early on for Reds starter Mat Latos.
The 24-year-old right-hander gave up two runs on four hits in his five innings, with three walks and five strikeouts.
Latos ran into trouble in the second and third, but survived without any major damage, allowing just the two runs. However, the Cardinals pumped his pitch count up to 97 through five innings, forcing an early exit.
"I'm not really trying to make an excuse for it, but I think rust really was it. I didn't attack as much as I've been doing," said Latos. "I like the fact that, earlier in the year, I would give up a couple runs, and it seemed like a couple runs led to more runs. [On Friday], I was able to minimize the damage and keep us in the ballgame and left us 2-1. It could have been a lot worse, there could have been six or seven runs on the board with the number of walks and guys they had on base."
Before Friday, Latos had tossed two consecutive complete games followed by seven scoreless innings in his past three starts. Despite the disappointing outing, Latos extended his streak to 15 straight starts without a loss thanks to some late-game run support.
The Reds could only scrounge two hits off Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright through the first six frames, one of which was a solo home run by Todd Frazier in the fifth. Frazier's 10th homer of the year brought the Reds to within one.
"I was just trying to get a good spark going and not necessarily hit a home run," Frazier said. "Just trying to get on base and make something happen, and luckily for me, I hit it hard enough to get it out and I think it got us going. We were a little sluggish there in the beginning, and that's all you need, that one big hit or that one big error, or whatever it may be."
Cincinnati started its rally in the seventh after it got back-to-back singles by Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce to start the inning.
Ryan Ludwick dropped a sacrifice bunt, his first of the season and the ninth of his career, to advance both runners into scoring position, and Wainwright intentionally walked Frazier to load the bases for Ryan Hanigan.
"That's something that we work on, and at some point in time, playing championship baseball, everybody is going to have to do it at some point in time," Baker said. "In the situation, that was a big, big, big bunt."
Hanigan hacked at a first-pitch curveball that slowly chopped toward first base. What seemed like an easy out quickly turned into chaos for the Cardinals.
Cards first baseman Allen Craig fielded the ball and tried to get the out at first with Wainwright covering the bag. A poor underhand toss from Craig allowed both Phillips and Bruce to score, with Frazier advancing to third and Hanigan, who was credited with a hit, to second.
"That's a really frustrating play," Craig said. "If I had it back, I probably would have been playing in front of the runner. I tried to make a play, but I probably would have been better off not doing anything with it. It's a frustrating play."
The Reds added a third run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Zack Cozart, and the two sides exchanged scores in the eighth.
Reds reliever Alfredo Simon pitched two scoreless innings to earn his first win as a Red, and closer Aroldis Chapman chalked up his 12th save of the season after striking out the side in the ninth.
"It was an outstanding victory and an almost well-played ballgame," Baker chuckled.
Matt Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.