MILWAUKEE -- Jesus Aguilar had been hunting 100 RBIs for a while, and he got there with some small ball. Then he found his power stroke, too.
Aguilar's infield single in the first inning made him the 19th Brewers player to reach triple-digit RBIs in a season, and his three-run homer in the third sent Milwaukee cruising toward a 7-0 win over the Reds at Miller Park on Wednesday night. And another step closer to playing October baseball.
"We feel like we're going the right way," said Aguilar. "We've got a lot of things to do."
Giovany Gonzalez pitched six scoreless innings and Manny Pina added a three-run homer at the end of an epic at-bat for a series win over the Reds and a 3-3 penultimate homestand that left the Brewers an NL-best 19-9 since Aug. 19. They grew their lead atop the National League Wild Card standings to three games over the Cardinals and climbed within 2 1/2 games of the Cubs in the NL Central.
The remaining schedule looks like this: Three games in Pittsburgh beginning Friday night, then three in St. Louis that loom large. The Brewers finish the regular season at home with three against the Tigers.
"We've got nine games to go," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "We've got a ways to go. There's plenty of baseball left. There's going to be some great moments, there's going to be some tough moments. That's still ahead of us.
"There's a lot left to happen, and I think you're just open to it and ready for it to happen. We've put ourselves in a great position to enjoy the last 10 days of the season."
The early lead was a 33rd birthday present for Gonzalez, who scattered two hits and two walks in Milwaukee's first six-inning start in two weeks. Corey Knebel, Junior Guerra and Freddy Peralta finished the Brewers' fifth shutout victory over the Reds -- the first time Cincinnati had been blanked that many times in a season by a single opponent since 1960 against the Pirates, and the first time the Brewers had shut out an opponent five times since 1971 against the Angels.
It was Aguilar who supplied the early run support in another flashback to his fantastic first half. He leads Milwaukee with 33 home runs and 103 RBIs but had cooled significantly in September as he navigated the longest season of his career. He entered Wednesday slashing .245/.288/.377 since the end of August with one home run -- a solo shot in the ninth inning of a 3-2 loss to the Pirates on Sunday.
Both of Aguilar's run-scoring hits on Wednesday came against Cincinnati right-hander Matt Harvey, starting with a single over second base that scored Christian Yelich for a 1-0 lead. It gave the Brewers a 100-RBI player for the second straight season after a five-year drought. Travis Shaw drove in 101 runs in 2017.
Two innings later, after Harvey fumbled a Yelich grounder to put a second runner on base, Aguilar smashed an opposite-field home run to break the game open.
"I was thinking about that RBI almost every night until I got it," said Aguilar, who stalled at 97 on Sept. 7 before picking up one apiece on Friday and Sunday to put him on the brink. "Right after, I was like, 'Hey, I'm good.' I was thinking about that the last few nights, but it was an unbelievable feeling. When I got to 100, I'm like a new guy."
A new guy with a renewed focus.
"I'm going to try to get to the postseason," Aguilar said.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Pina's marathon homer:Domingo Santana tripled with one out in the sixth before Harvey intentionally walked Mike Moustakas to set up a showdown with Pina, who fouled off nine of the first 12 pitches Harvey fired toward home plate before connecting with No. 13, a slider down the middle that Pina deposited into the left-field bleachers for three insurance runs that were important because after Knebel (who was already hot in the bullpen) pitched the seventh, Counsell was able to give his other primary relievers another day of rest heading into Milwaukee's final road trip.
"I was so focused, man," Pina said. "They gave the intentional walk to Moose, so I was like, 'I have to do something about it.' I was locked [in]."
Harvey threw the kitchen sink at him.
"He threw me pitches inside, outside, I was fighting it off," Pina said. "I knew he was kind of tired. I thought, 'He's going to hang me a pitch.' That's the pitch I hit for a homer. … I needed it. My mind right now is on 'help the team to make the playoffs.' That's what we want right now -- everybody. The fans need to see us in the playoffs, too."
Yelich will be sorry to see the Reds go. He tallied multiple hits in seven of 14 games this season against Cincinnati and batted .482 (27-for-56) in those games for the fifth-highest single-season batting average against the Reds (minimum 50 at-bats) on record since 1908. The last hitter to fare better against Cincinnati pitching in a season was the Cubs' Mark DeRosa, who hit .510 (26-for-51) in 2007.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
A crowd of 33,443 showed the Brewers some love Wednesday, but one fan in the front row along the third-base line got particularly up close and comfortable. On the very first pitch of the game, Reds leadoff man Scott Schebler sent a pop fly into foul ground. Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia gave chase, covering 137 feet at a top sprint speed of 28.2 mph, according to Statcast™, to make a catch along the railing in front of that fan, who put his arms around Arcia and gave him a hug. It happened in the same spot where Arcia snuck a spoonful of a fan's ice cream last season, and Arcia wondered aloud on Wednesday whether it was the same group of guys.
"I was a little surprised, but it was fun," said Arcia. "They do show a lot of love there. All the time. Not only to me, but to all the guys."
The Brewers get one last chance to solve the pesky Pirates when Jhoulys Chacin opens a three-game road series on Friday at 6:05 p.m. CT. Pittsburgh, which sends tough right-hander Ivan Nova to the mound, has won 11 of the first 16 matchups between the teams, including two of three at Miller Park last weekend and all five games of a dismal series for the Brewers at PNC Park just before the All-Star break. Chacin has a 2.51 ERA against the Pirates in five starts this season, but he is yet to register a win.