CINCINNATI - Yadier Molina jawed with Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips in the first inning Tuesday night, sparking a benches-clearing fight, and the Cardinals followed their catcher's lead to an 8-4 victory that moved St. Louis back into first place in the NL Central.
Molina hit a solo homer and a sacrifice fly off Johnny Cueto (11-3), who got shoved against the backstop screen and furiously kicked several Cardinals during the altercation. Both managers were ejected, but no players.
Then, the Reds got kicked around by the Cardinals again. Matt Holliday broke the game open with a bases-loaded single in the seventh, one of his four hits.
Rookie left-hander Jaime Garcia (10-5) beat the Reds for the third time this season, giving up four runs in 51/3 innings. Ryan Franklin retired Phillips, the only batter he faced, on a routine grounder with two runners aboard, ending the game for his 20th save in 22 tries.
St. Louis has won the first two games of the showdown series between teams locked in a tight race since May. The Cardinals moved a season-high 14 games over .500 and a few percentage points ahead of the Reds, who had led the division for the last eight days.
The defending champions improved to 9-5 against the Reds this season, the only team in the NL Central that has beaten them so thoroughly.
At Chicago, Jim Thome hit his 579th homer, Joe Mauer had three more hits and Minnesota took sole possession of the AL Central lead by beating the White Sox.
For the Twins, it was a good start to a showcase series between the top two teams in the division. Now, they're alone atop the Central for the first time since July 2.
They pounded out five homers, starting with Thome's drive to left-center on the first pitch of the second to kick off a four-run burst against his former team.
At Washington, Stephen Strasburg returned from his first trip to the disabled list and turned in the worst start of his sometimes-spectacular rookie season.
Washington's prized right-hander allowed a career-high six earned runs in a career-low 41/3 innings, and Florida Marlins beat the Nationals.
Dan Uggla drove in four runs with a homer and a double, and Hanley Ramirez hit two of his three doubles off Strasburg (5-3), whose ERA rose from 2.32 to 3.07. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft had not allowed more than three earned runs or lasted fewer than five innings in any of his previous nine major league games.
At Philadelphia, Andre Ethier had four hits, scored four runs and reached base six times, and Casey Blake and Jay Gibbons hit home runs to lead Los Angeles to a battering of the Phillies.
The Dodgers had 18 hits, eight against starter Kyle Kendrick (7-5), who lasted only 31/3 innings. The top four hitters in the batting order - Scott Podsednik, Ryan Theriot, Ethier and James Loney - had 11 hits and scored 11 runs.
Los Angeles started a seven-game road trip through Philadelphia and Atlanta with their highest-scoring game of the season. The Dodgers had gone 6-15 since the All-Star Break before winning three straight.
At Houston, Brooks Conrad's two-run homer in the ninth inning powered Atlanta to a win over the Astros.
The Braves were trailing 2-1 after the Astros scored a pair of runs in the eighth inning off Atlanta errors before Conrad's shot to right field off Houston closer Matt Lindstrom (2-3).
Alex Gonzalez singled to set up Conrad's go-ahead shot. Conrad entered the game in the bottom of the sixth inning to replace Chipper Jones, who sprained his left knee.
Troy Glaus added a solo homer in the ninth and also drove in Atlanta's first run in the seventh inning.
Jonny Venters (4-0) got the win after striking out Jason Michaels to end the eighth inning and Billy Wagner pitched a perfect ninth for his 28th save.
At Milwaukee, Miguel Montero hit a home run to begin the eighth inning and lift Arizona to a victory over the Brewers.
Montero reached down and drove a first-pitch slider from reliever Chris Capuano (1-2) to deep center for his fifth home run of the season.
Capuano fell to 0-2 in 12 relief appearances this season. His contract was selected on May 29 from AAA Nashville. Prior to this season, he had not pitched in the majors since Sept. 28, 2007 against San Diego. He had his second Tommy John surgery on May 15, 2008.
Blaine Boyer (3-2) pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth and Sam Demel earned his first career save as Arizona put a strong finishing touch on rookie starter Barry Enright' stellar outing.