ST. LOUIS (AP) About the only thing as consistent as veteran John Lackey's pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals these days is rookie Tommy Pham's hitting.
Both delivered strong games Tuesday night in a 3-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Lackey (13-9) pitched seven innings and allowed only a first-inning homer by Jay Bruce during his 16th quality start in 16 outings at Busch Stadium. Pham doubled and hit a sacrifice fly to drive in St. Louis' first two runs.
The Cardinals improved to a major league-best 95-56 and maintained their four-game NL Central lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-3 winners at Colorado.
Lackey struck out seven, walked none and lowered his home ERA to 1.97. Reds manager Bryan Price said the right-hander is pitching as well if not better than he has in any of his 13 seasons.
With a 2.74 ERA overall, Lackey agreed with that assessment after his 165th career win.
''Arm strength, knowledge and execution have come together this year pretty well for me,'' he said. ''Been a good deal.''
Pham hit a sacrifice fly to deep center field in the seventh that scored Tony Cruz and broke a 1-all tie. Pham drove in the Cardinals' first run with a third-inning double that brought in Matt Carpenter, who doubled with one out.
Since moving into the lineup eight games ago, Pham has nine RBIs, eight extra-base hits and is batting .407.
''Baseball's a lot of fun when things are going your way,'' Pham said. ''It's still such a grind because hitting is so hard. I'm just trying to stay focused and contribute.''
Pham batted .182 during a 13-game call-up from Triple-A Memphis in July but is hitting .318 in 30 games since his second promotion in August.
''He's feeling good at the plate. Just trying to keep him there,'' manager Mike Matheny said.
Steve Cishek worked the ninth to earn his first save for St. Louis.
Lackey induced three ground-ball double plays in the first five innings that thwarted rallies and brought his National League-leading total to 28. He also helped himself by grabbing a line drive drilled right at his glove by Todd Frazier to end the sixth.
Brayan Pena led off the seventh with a liner up the middle that hit Lackey on the backside, but he remained in the game.
The Reds had nine hits off Lackey and at least one runner in every inning except the sixth.
''We did a nice job of getting guys on base but we weren't able to break out with the big hit,'' Price said. ''They didn't create bigger problems by walking hitters.''
Bruce's 456-foot homer off a 93 mph fastball from Lackey was the longest by a left-handed hitter at 10-year-old Busch Stadium.
Kolten Wong drove in the Cardinals' third run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Joey Votto walked in the top of the eighth to reach base for the 39th consecutive game.
Reds: Pena started for the first time since injuring his right hamstring Sept. 8. The catcher singled twice in three at-bats before being lifted for a pinch runner.
Cardinals: C Yadier Molina said he plans to return before the end of the regular season despite a left thumb injury. Molina was relieved to hear he would not need surgery after sustaining a slight ligament tear Sunday. ''Five, seven, 10 days, whatever it is, but no surgery,'' he said. ''That was good news.''
Reds: Rookie LHP Brandon Finnegan, acquired from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto trade, will make his second career start in the finale of the three-game series. Finnegan allowed three hits and one run in five innings and picked up a win at Milwaukee last week.
Cardinals: Lance Lynn will try to get on the right track after lasting 3 1-3 innings at Wrigley Field last week. Lynn (11-10, 3.28) has a 5.11 ERA over his past five starts.