CINCINNATI -- The Cardinals know this isn't just any other series.
With just 37 games left on the schedule, it's crunch time for St. Louis.
The Cardinals showed their fight Friday night, using a six-run sixth inning to storm back from a three-run deficit to clinch an 8-5 comeback win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.
"It was a really big game for us," said Allen Craig, whose three-run blast sparked the offensive outburst. "We start the road trip against our main competition and get a victory the first night, especially after going down early and rallying back and getting a big win."
After sweeping the Astros at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals kicked off their pivotal 10-game road stretch with a clutch victory over the division-leading Reds to close the gap in the National League Central to six games.
It took a lot of gut and grit to get through Friday night's contest, as Cardinals starter Lance Lynn lasted just two-plus innings and left St. Louis with an early 4-1 hole to dig out of.
"It was just one of those things where I couldn't get ahead in the count, and when I brought the ball back over the plate they were able to get hits," said Lynn, who threw 37 of his 62 pitches for strikes. "It happens sometimes, but I've got to do better than that. I was leaving the ball up and over the zone."
Lynn gave up six hits and two walks before being replaced by Joe Kelly in the third.
That's when things took a turn for the better. Five Cardinals relievers combined to give up just one run on six hits in the final seven innings to stymie the potent Reds offense.
The Cardinals' bullpen hit a stretch where they retired 10 straight batters, including five straight strikeouts, en route to a 14-strikeout evening.
"The luxury we have is a great bullpen and a great offense, and they bailed me out tonight," Lynn said. "That's what this game is all about. It's a great team win for us. I didn't do my part, but the guys came in and did their part and it was a great win for us."
The efforts of the hot-armed bullpen paved the way for the Cardinals' bats to come alive.
St. Louis had chipped away at Cincinnati's lead with solo runs in the second and fourth innings, but rallied in the sixth to take a lead it would never surrender.
Carlos Beltran led off the frame by hustling out a single, sliding into first base just in time. Matt Holliday followed with another single to set the table for Craig's three-run bomb off Reds starter Mat Latos.
"I didn't know it was going to be a home run," Craig said. "I hit it decent and was just trying to get a sac fly in that situation. I'm pretty good at hitting the ball down. I was just trying to get it up in the air and get enough of it."
Yadier Molina followed with a solo shot to give the Cardinals their first lead of the contest.
An ensuing walk ended Latos' day after five-plus innings, as he surrendered seven runs on nine hits for his fourth loss of the year.
"I went from having good fastball command to not," Latos said. "That last inning, I looked up and it was 6-5 already. I had command down in the zone early but I made a couple of mistakes and they capitalized on it."
St. Louis tacked on another run off Reds reliever Alfredo Simon to give some cushion to the lead.
With the Pirates dropping their game to the Brewers on Friday, the Cardinals proved to be the biggest winners of the night.
"Without question, it was one of those character wins where the guys just didn't stop fighting and picking each other up," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That says a lot about a team, and that's the kind of team we're going to have to be the rest of the way."
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.