ST. LOUIS -- John Lackey still isn't happy about getting pushed back in the rotation.
After powering back into the St. Louis postseason pitching picture with 7 2/3 dominant innings in a 2-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night, the veteran right-hander grudgingly admitted extra rest might have been a good thing.
"Yeah, I guess it helped," Lackey said after a pause. "We'll go with that."
Asked whether he had his best stuff, Lackey fired back a fastball.
"Since when? Since ever? No, not even close," Lackey said. "I definitely felt better than I have in a couple weeks, for sure."
Randal Grichuk and Matt Holliday hit consecutive homers in the first for the NL Central leaders, who had only five hits but maintained a 2 1-2-game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates with eight games remaining.
The Cardinals' magic number is seven for clinching a second straight division title and two over third-place Milwaukee for securing a fourth straight postseason berth.
St. Louis is 6-1 on its final nine-game homestand.
Lackey (14-9) was passed over in the just-completed three-game series against Milwaukee after complaining of a dead arm.
The 35-year-old right-hander arrived at the trade deadline with a big-game reputation and noted after beating Cincinnati, "I think that's why I'm here."
But he was 2-2 with a 5.05 ERA in his first eight starts.
Lackey was especially well-rested for the sagging Reds, considering he was ejected in the third inning of his previous outing Sept. 10 at Cincinnati.
The Cardinals jumped on rookie lefty Mike Holmberg (1-2) early. With one out in the first, Grichuk lined an 0-2 pitch into the visitors bullpen in left. Three pitches later, Holliday lined his 19th over the center field wall.
Center fielder Jon Jay helped keep the Reds down, twice robbing Ryan Ludwick of extra bases with leaping catches at the wall. The first catch came one at-bat before Zack Cozart's RBI single in the second.
"This ballpark plays bigger now, the colder it gets," Jay said. "I knew on both of those balls I was going to have a chance."
Cozart was thrown out at second, and the call was confirmed by replay after the Reds appealed.
Holmberg allowed three hits the rest of his six innings in his fourth start of the year and second appearance this month against St. Louis. He worked 5 2/3 innings against the Cardinals on Sept. 8 after replacing injured Dylan Axelrod after one batter.
The Cardinals have 101 homers, second-fewest in the majors ahead of only the cross-state Royals. They have gone back-to-back just twice, the other on July 5 when Allen Craig and Jhonny Peralta connected against Miami.
Lackey was the eighth straight starter to allow no more than one earned run, but lately the margin has been thin. The Cardinals have totaled nine runs while winning three of the last four, two of those games lasting a combined seven extra innings.
The Reds, who have lost five in a row, fell to 22-38 in one-run decisions. They lead the majors in one-run losses.
"It's a broken record," manager Bryan Price said. "To be honest with you, it's at the point where you're tired talking about the same game, losing 2-1, 3-2.
"At some point in time we've got to do something to win some of these games."
The Cardinals are 47-24 against the Reds at 9-year-old Busch Stadium.
Reds: Mike Leake (11-12, 3.65) needs one strikeout for 600. He has been victimized by a team-high five blown saves. He is 2-1 in four starts this year against St. Louis.
Cardinals: Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.14) makes his first start since Sept. 9 and likely will be on a limited pitch count. He is 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts against the Reds this year.
Reds: Joey Votto (left knee) is on the trip but is running out of time to play. He has missed 91 games during two stints on the DL.
Cardinals: Shelby Miller took a one-hop liner off his right ankle in the sixth inning and was taken out as a precaution. Though sporting a nasty bruise, tests showed nothing serious.
Reds 2B Brandon Phillips' 107-game errorless streak, a franchise record for his position, ended when he threw wide to first on Jon Jay's grounder in the second.