CINCINNATI — Scott Linebrink would throw the same pitch again. His manager wouldn’t blame him.
Drew Stubbs led off the ninth with a first-pitch homer off the Braves reliever, sending the Cincinnati Reds to a 4-3 victory on Sunday night and their first set of back-to-back victories in more than five weeks.
The defending NL Central champions hadn’t won consecutive games since June 14-15 and had lost 22 one-run games, the most in the majors.
This one went their way on one pitch.
Stubbs went the opposite way to right field on the first offering from Linebrink (3-2), a fastball on the outside part of the plate — his exact target.
“I threw it right where I wanted to,” Linebrink said. “If I could go back out there now, I’d throw the exact same pitch. We executed the pitch (perfectly).”
Manager Fredi Gonzalez approved of the way Linebrink went after Stubbs, not giving him anything to pull in one of the major leagues’ most homer-friendly ballparks.
“In this ballpark, they say if you’re going to get beat, get beat to the opposite field and Linebrink did,”
Gonzalez said. “In this ballpark, I’m sure that happens a lot. Again, maybe we shouldn’t have been in that situation if we’d have scored some runs early.”
Stubbs’ homer completed Cincinnati’s all-power night. Brandon Phillips hit a two-run homer, and Miguel Cairo added a solo shot off rookie Brandon Beachy, giving Cincinnati a 3-0 lead.
“It’s the same story I’ve had most of this year,” Beachy said. “I go out and try to pick and be perfect and fall behind. I think I can make that perfect pitch every time.”
Francisco Cordero (4-3) fanned pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad with a runner on third base to end the Braves’ ninth.
Reds starter Dontrelle Willis couldn’t hold a 3-2 lead in the seventh, when Julio Lugo tied it with a pinch-hit single. The left-hander was trying to get his first big league win since June 5 last season.
Atlanta stranded runners in scoring position in the seventh and ninth innings, wasting chances to take a late lead.
Willis put on a show at the start. He got through the first inning on seven pitches, all strikes, and ended it with a flourish.
Brian McCann grounded to first baseman Joey Votto, whose flip to Willis was a little behind the pitcher. Willis reached back, caught the ball, then dived and tagged the base with his glove. He rolled once on the ground before getting to his feet.
It was a familiar sight for Gonzalez, who managed Willis in Florida in 2007, before the left-hander’s career faded.
“He looked like the Dontrelle Willis of old,” Gonzalez said. “When he gets on the mound, he looks like he’s pitching in his backyard. He’s a throwback, really, one of the players you read about from the 1930s and 1940s the way he plays the game.”
McCann hit his second homer of the series in the fourth inning, and the Braves got another run when Alex Gonzalez grounded into a forceout, cutting Cincinnati’s lead to 3-2. McCann’s 18 homers are the most by a catcher in the majors.
For a moment, it appeared Willis might have to leave early. He fanned Martin Prado in the third inning on a hard slider, then shook his left hand and looked at his fingertips. A trainer checked out his hand, and manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price talked to him on the bench after the inning.
Willis stayed in until the seventh, when Nate McLouth singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Lugo’s single, which ended his 0-for-12 slump.
Beachy was coming off the worst outing of his young career. The rookie gave up six runs, nine hits and two homers — all career highs — in only 4 2-3 innings of a 12-3 loss at Colorado on Tuesday.
The right-hander gave up two more homers Sunday night. Phillips hit an opposite-field, two-run shot in the first inning, and Cairo hit a solo homer off the facing of the upper deck in left field in the second for a 3-0 lead.
Braves second baseman Dan Uggla went 0 for 3, ending his career-best hitting streak at 14 games.
NOTES: Braves 3B Chipper Jones will rejoin the team in Atlanta on Monday and could be activated off the DL. Jones had surgery to fix torn cartilage in his right knee on July 9. He played in two games over the weekend for Class A Rome without incident. ... The Reds put SS Zack Cozart on the 15-day DL and called up SS Paul Janish from Triple-A. Cozart sprained his left elbow while making a tag in Saturday’s game. ... Reds RF Jay Bruce was back in the starting lineup. An inner-ear problem had limited him to one pinch-hit appearance the past two days.