CINCINNATI -- Jay Bruce couldn't have picked a better moment to snap a career-high 0-for-26 skid.
His two-run homer in the eighth inning broke a 2-2 tie and lifted the Reds to a much-needed 4-2 victory over the Brewers on Sunday afternoon at Great American Ball Park, sealing a series win over the National League Central leaders and gaining a game in the standings.
With Brandon Phillips at first base and one out in the eighth, Bruce launched a 1-2 fastball from Milwaukee reliever Will Smith into the seats in right field for his eighth home run of the season, ensuring the Brewers would not leave town eight games ahead of Cincinnati.
"No one likes to go 0-for-26," Bruce said. "It was a great time to be able to come out of it and help secure a win."
After two consecutive sliders, Smith's signature pitch, the left-hander threw Bruce a fastball. But he wasn't second-guessing that pitch selection afterward.
"I think it's the right call at that time," Smith said. "He took a pretty good slider the pitch before, I just didn't throw [the fastball] exactly where I wanted to. It wasn't a bad, bad pitch, but it was still up where he could get to it. He's a good hitter, too. He did what he was supposed to do to it."
"[Smith] likes to go down and away a lot, and I haven't seen him very much," Bruce said. "He has a very, very good slider, and I just tried to get something that I could handle and not give in to his approach, not give in to his plan. And I was able to do it right there at the end. It wasn't a bad pitch; it was up and in and it was a tough ball to get to, and fortunately I was able to get to it."
Bruce's homer was his 48th against left-handed pitchers over the last five years, the most in the Majors in that span and it was his fourth home run in 61 at-bats against a southpaw this season. He's hit the same number against right-handers, but in more than three times the number of at-bats (189). It was his first home run since June 21 against the Blue Jays, covering a span of 53 at-bats. It was his 25th career homer against the Brewers, the most he has hit against any team.
"The ironic thing is, I think that exact statistic [47 homers against lefties in the last five years] was up on the board when he hit the homer," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's for those reasons you have optimism, regardless of who they bring in to face Jay."
Meanwhile, Cincinnati starter Mat Latos continued his dominance this season against the Brewers. The right-hander allowed two runs on four hits, walking one and striking out three over a season-high eight innings. He has allowed four runs on 10 hits over his last three starts, covering a span of 22 innings (1.64 ERA), and has posted a 1.29 ERA (two runs in 14 innings pitched) in two starts against Milwaukee this season.
The Reds jumped on the board early on Sunday. With one out in the first, Todd Frazier and Phillips hit back-to-back singles off Brewers' starter Yovani Gallardo to put runners on the corners for Bruce. Bruce grounded into a fielder's choice that scored Frazier for a 1-0 lead.
Gallardo then hit Ryan Ludwick, and Devin Mesoraco followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0.
Cincinnati nearly had another run in the second, when Ramon Santiago hit a deep drive to the right-field wall, where Logan Schafer leaped to try for a catch, but a fan reached over the wall and interfered. After a crew chief review, Santiago was ruled out despite having circled the bases.
The Brewers' first run came in the sixth, when Schafer led off with a triple and scored on a groundout by Scooter Gennett. Schafer doubled in the eighth and scored the tying run on pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks' single.
Jonathan Broxton came on in the ninth and picked up the save, his first since April 29. Closer Aroldis Chapman tweaked a hamstring prior to the game and was unavailable to pitch. He's day-to-day.
The Reds have won seven of 10 games against the Brewers this season, and Sunday's victory was crucial going into the remaining eight games before the All-Star break as Cincinnati tries to position itself for a second-half run.
"We needed this one," Mesoraco said. "Matty went out there and did a great job. He was really attacking these guys, going right after them. We had great defense behind him like we usually do. It was a good, good win for us."
"It certainly could have gone the other way," Price said. "You'd hate to lose ground on this team; we were already seven back of them coming into today and we were able to shorten that to six. ... There's nobody here that doubts our club in the clubhouse, and we've been playing a lot better lately. And if it continues, obviously we can put some pressure on the clubs that are ahead of us."
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.