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CINCINNATI - Two years after arm problems pushed his career to the brink, Troy Percival is back to winning games in the big leagues.

Juan Encarnacion's tiebreaking single in the eighth inning helped the St. Louis Cardinals rally for a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night, giving Percival a triumphant return to the major leagues.

The 37-year-old Percival was in position for his first victory since April 22, 2005, after he pitched a perfect seventh inning. He watched from the bench as the Cardinals pulled it out with three runs in the eighth.

"Percival is one of those great pros that everybody expects,'' manager Tony La Russa said. "It's a dream come true. He gets three outs and gets the winning decision. That's movie material.''

The former All-Star closer made his first major league appearance since July 9, 2005, with Detroit. Percival is 12th on the career list with 324 saves, but hadn't pitched in nearly two years because of persistent arm problems.

Several of the Cardinals sent him text messages and made phone calls, trying to lure him back to the mound. That provided the inspiration to try again.

"I didn't come back for myself,'' Percival said. "A lot of friends on this team called me and said they needed pitching help. And my arm felt good enough to do it.''

When the defending World Series champions offered a deal, he quickly accepted.

"I want to see if we can get a championship,'' he said. "I didn't come back to muddle around in last place somewhere.''

Percival signed on June 8, made six appearances in Triple-A, then was added to the roster on Tuesday. The Cardinals' comeback made his long-awaited return a happy one.

"We just had a lot of things go right,'' said starter Brad Thompson, who gave up Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in six innings. "That's how Cardinals baseball is supposed to look.''

Nearly every game looks the same for the Reds these days.

Cincinnati was booed at home - an increasingly common occurrence - after one of the NL's worst bullpens failed to hold a 2-1 lead. The Reds fell a season-low 20 games under .500, leaving them with the worst record in the majors at 30-50.

The Reds are on pace to lose 100 games for the first time since 1982. The bullpen has been the biggest problem, losing an NL-leading 18 games so far.

Marcus McBeth (2-2) opened the seventh by giving up a double to Aaron Miles and a single to Albert Pujols, the third of his three hits. Chris Duncan's single to center off Jon Coutlangus tied it at 2.

Encarnacion's single off Brad Salmon broke the tie, and Yadier Molina singled home another run for a 4-2 lead. Jason Isringhausen pitched the ninth for his 15th save in 17 chances.

The latest failure by Cincinnati's bullpen kept right-hander Bronson Arroyo stuck in the deepest slump of his career.

"That's the way it goes,'' said Arroyo, who gave up one run in seven innings. "I haven't exactly been throwing good start after good start out there, so I have nothing to complain about. That's the way things are going this year. Even when I throw well, I don't get a win.''

Arroyo hasn't won since May 6, going 0-7 in 10 starts since then. He got a two-year, $25 million extension last February, but has been one of the Reds' biggest mysteries this season.

Unsure why his fastball lost several miles per hour, he got an extra day of rest before his last start and changed his diet and workout routine. He was back in form on Friday.

"My velocity's been up the last two starts,'' he said. "When I'm reaching 90 mph, it allows me to be more efficient. They can't sit on stuff. They have to respect my other pitches.''

Notes: Cardinals INF Scott Spiezio remained hospitalized in New York, getting antibiotics intravenously for an infection in his left index finger. He will miss the weekend series in Cincinnati. … Molina made his first appearance since he broke a bone in his left wrist on May 29. … The Reds are 14-24 at Great American Ball Park, the NL's worst home record. … Reds LHP Eddie Guardado won't throw for a few days. His comeback from reconstructive elbow surgery has been slowed by a sore back and stiffness in his forearm. A medical exam on Friday detected nothing serious.

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