CINCINNATI -- It's still a little early to be worried about the standings. But when the best team in baseball is a National League Central rival, it certainly doesn't hurt to put a dent into its sizable lead.
The Reds needed an all-around solid effort Thursday night against the Brewers, and that's what they got during an 8-3 victory. Homer Bailey pitched a season-high eight innings and received plenty of help with three home runs, including pinch-hitter Brayan Pena's two-run shot in a five-run eighth.
At 13-15, the Reds improved to 6 1/2 games behind the 20-9 Brewers.
"They've picked me up all year so far. I'm just glad I was able to do something for them," said Bailey, who gave up three runs and eight hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
Bailey retired a stretch of 12 of 13 batters and had a 3-1 lead before two-out trouble came in the seventh. Jean Segura hit a single on the ground into right field before pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks hit a comebacker off of Bailey's leg for a single. Next came Carlos Gomez, who ripped a first-pitch fastball to the left-field wall for a two-run double that made it a 3-3 game.
Overall, Reds manager Bryan Price was pleased by Bailey's performance after he had allowed four or more runs in four of his five starts and was tied for the league lead with seven homers allowed. In this game, he did not surrender a long ball.
"They're a very confident team right now and he made some big pitches against a good team," Price said.
An overworked and worn-down Brewers bullpen became exposed in the eighth. Leading off against Jim Henderson, Zack Cozart hit a single to right field. There was one out when Pena batted for Bailey and pulled Henderson's first-pitch slider just far enough over the right-field fence for the second pinch-hit homer of his career.
"I wasn't thinking about driving the ball. I was thinking about hitting the ball hard somewhere," said Pena, who also homered while starting Wednesday's game vs. the Cubs. "I just got a pitch a little bit up and took advantage of it. It's one of those things -- my focus was on trying to do my job, trying to hit the ball hard somewhere and see what happens. I wasn't expecting the homer, to be honest with you, but I will take it."
Pena, the primary catcher lately after Devin Mesoraco went on the disabled list, is batting .319 in 17 games this season.
"Another big at-bat," Price said. "That's one of the reasons that we got Brayan. Because we knew that when he wasn't catching, he'd be able to have that type of influence on our lineup as a bench player."
More pressure was applied when Chris Heisey followed with a single and Joey Votto doubled off of the left-field wall. Jay Bruce was intentionally walked with one out before freshly recalled reliever Rob Wooten walked first batter Todd Frazier to force home a run. Ryan Ludwick, who struck out with the bases loaded in the seventh, was redeemed with a single off of Aramis Ramirez at third base that scored two more and blew open the game.
"It was good for all of us," Bailey said. "This team has gone through a lot so far. I think things are fixing to turn around. You can feel it in the clubhouse."
The night started less optimistically when on the first pitch of the game, rookie center fielder Billy Hamilton made a diving catch to rob Gomez of a hit but jammed two fingers into the ground on his glove hand. Hamilton had to leave the game. In the bottom of the first, Gomez then robbed Votto of a homer with a leaping catch above the fence.
Milwaukee starter Marco Estrada held a 1-0 lead into the fifth inning when the Reds came alive. Leading off, the rookie catcher filling in for Pena -- Tucker Barnhart -- tied the game with his first Major League home run. The 1-1 pitch was pulled into the right-field bullpen. A chance to add on later in the inning was missed with two men on when the struggling Brandon Phillips bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Estrada began the sixth by walking Bruce before Frazier made a one-armed swing to lift a 1-1 pitch for a two-run homer into the first row of the left-field seats.
"This game is amazing," Frazier said. "The ball I hit, I thought it was a pop fly. I kind of walked to first, thinking, 'Darn, if I just waited a little bit longer,' and it went out. You never know in this game. That's the best thing about it. ... It was just my signature kind of swings there, out in front. When you barrel a ball up, you've always got a chance, especially if you've got power."