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Reds take first-half finale behind pair of home runs

Cincinnati earns series split to build momentum before All-Star break

ATLANTA -- The Cincinnati Reds headed into the All-Star break with a satisfying taste in their mouths, but they're far from satisfied.

"[The win] makes for a better All-Star break," manager Dusty Baker said. "We had a chance to take at least three out of four, maybe even sweep them but we'll take what we got and start the second half where we are."

The Reds got the big hit and the long ball they'd been looking for on one swing of Jay Bruce's bat and got five innings of solid relief from its bullpen in downing the Atlanta Braves, 8-4, Sunday afternoon at Turner Field.

The win gave the Reds a split of the four-game set in Atlanta, and a 53-42 record going into the break, good for third place in the National League Central.

Bruce had his second three-hit game of the season -- he was deprived of his second four-hit game of the year on a fine leaping catch by Atlanta left fielder Jose Constanza in the ninth -- and snapped a home run drought of 67 at-bats, launching a two-run shot with two outs in the third inning. The blast, Bruce's 19th, was the Reds' first of the series.

"I really don't pay attention to that stuff," said Bruce of ending the 18-game homerless stretch, the second-longest of his career. "I started off July a little slow but slowly am heating up a little bit."

Shin-Soo Choo continued his torrid July, going 2-for-3 with two walks and three runs scored on Sunday, adding a solo shot leading off the fifth, his 13th of the season. Choo was on base almost the entire series, batting .500 (8-for-16), reaching base 11 times in 19 plate appearances and scoring seven runs, also driving in two. He'll take a 12-game hitting streak into the Break, during which he's hitting .429 (21-for-49), with five consecutive multihit games.

Baker was actually as impressed with Choo's base running, especially in the ninth inning, when he went from first to third on a sacrifice bunt by left fielder Derrick Robinson. It was a play Baker described as reminiscent of a more famous Robinson.

"That's kind of Jackie Robinson-type stuff," Baker said. "That play made that inning. It looked like it was a shoo-in game. Had he not done that and we get the other runs, it might have been a one-run game."

Instead the lead grew from 5-3 to 8-3 and made Aroldis Chapman's ninth-inning appearance much less urgent. He still topped out at 103 and had two strikeouts, allowing only a two-out homer to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, his fourth homer allowed in 2013.

All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips completed a big homecoming series by driving in three runs, including a booming two-run double in the ninth, and fellow All-Star Joey Votto went 1-for-3 with a double and two walks, reaching base for the 29th straight game and for the 88th time in 95 starts. He heads to New York with a .434 on-base percentage, second in the Majors.

Cincinnati reached Atlanta starter Julio Teheran (7-5) for five runs and seven hits, with four of those hits going for extra bases. The Reds had 11 hits on the day, six of them for extra bases.

"We just hit the pitcher's mistakes," said Phillips, who hit in all four games of the series, batting .313 (5-for-16), and drove in seven runs -- two on Thursday and Friday, three on Sunday.

"We got it done today. It was fun to watch and pitching also was great. You can't leave out the pitching," Phillips said. "We're starting to feel good. We're starting to hit them where they're not. It was all about placement and the balls just went our way today."

Reds starter Tony Cingrani didn't necessarily agree.

Cingrani allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits, but lasted only four innings, matching his shortest appearance of the season. He threw 96 pitches, 55 for strikes. He'd probably have gone longer but ran into some bad luck in the second inning, when what should have been an inning-ending popup near the mound fell as third baseman Todd Frazier lost the ball in the sun. The ball dropped inches from where Frazier stood with his arms out searching in vain for the ball.

Cingrani appeared affected by the extension of the inning, as he allowed a game-tying double then walked the eighth-place hitter Joey Terdoslavich and Teheran to load the bases. But he got out of the jam by getting leadoff hitter Constanza on a hard-hit line drive right back to him.

As important, the dropped fly ball forced Cingrani to throw 24 more pitches, doubling his pitch count to that point.

While he didn't pitch long enough to earn a decision, the 23-year-old rookie, making only his 18th Major League appearance, kept the Reds in the game. He's now allowed opponents two runs or fewer in eight of his 10 starts.

"Sometimes you get tested, especially when you're a rookie and you're not going to get a lot of the near strikes," Baker said, adding he felt that home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook was consistent. "His pitch count got way high, he got frustrated but fortunately for us, he got out of a couple of tough jams. He's kind of a maximum-effort guy but he'll learn in time, how to conserve his energy."

Some of that effort came in the big third inning, when, down 1-0 -- the first time Atlanta scored first in the series -- the Reds erupted for four runs on four hits. Cingrani started the rally with an infield single off Teheran's glove, beating Teheran to the base. Choo followed with a single to center and, one out later, Votto drove in run with a double to right. Phillips drove in a run with a groundout before Bruce went deep, driving a 1-0 pitch out to right. The blast was Bruce's first since June 22.

Choo smacked a 1-0 pitch over the wall leading off the fifth to make it 5-2 and Todd Frazier added an RBI single in the ninth to conclude the scoring.

While Cingrani only lasted four innings, the bullpen stepped up.

Relievers J.J. Hoover and winning pitcher Logan Ondrusek (3-0) held the Braves scoreless on three hits from the fifth through the seventh. Sam LeCure and Chapman finished up. LeCure allowed a first-pitch solo home run to Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla before retiring the side and Chapman allowed the two-out solo shot to Simmons.

The Reds head into the All-Star Game in third place, and while they were only one game back of first-place at the All-Star break in 2012, they also were only 47-38 then went 50-27 in the second half to take the division. Bruce expects another big second half.

"Obviously, we're not in first place and where we want to be, but we've played well," said Bruce. "What are we at, 53 wins? That's a heck of a first half. We haven't played as well as we're going to, and I look forward to doing that."

Jon Cooper is a contributor to
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