CINCINNATI — Drew Stubbs went to the plate ready to swing at the first pitch.
When he got the fastball he expected, Stubbs went the opposite way for a leadoff homer in the ninth inning Sunday night, sending the Cincinnati Reds to a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves and their first set of back-to-back victories in more than five weeks.
Stubbs expected Scott Linebrink (3-2) to try to get ahead in the count with his first pitch. Good guess.
"I went up there looking for a fastball out over the plate," Stubbs said, after the second game-ending homer of his career. "He gave it to me, I put a good swing on it, and the rest is history."
A little recent history: The defending NL Central champions hadn't won consecutive games since June 14-15, when they completed a three-game sweep of the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
"It's been even longer since we've won three in a row, so we might as well win three in a row," manager Dusty Baker said.
The Reds' inability to put together even the most modest winning streak has stranded them in fourth.
"We know we haven't been playing our best baseball, but we definitely have the pieces of the puzzle to make a run," Stubbs said. "It's going to be a dogfight. Nobody's running away with it. I think we can stay right we're at and make a run at it."
Stubbs' homer off Linebrink (3-2) completed the Reds' 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.
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.
Willis put on a show at the start. He got through the inning on seven pitches, all strikes, and ended the inning 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.
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, looked at his index finger and saw he had cracked the nail. A trainer checked out his hand, and Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price talked to him on the bench after the inning.
"I've done it before," Willis said. "The thing is, the pitch I did it on was a strikeout. If I get a strikeout every time I crack a fingernail, I'll crack all 10."
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 Miguel Cairo hit a solo homer off the facing of the upper deck in left field in the second for a 3-0 lead. Beachy went six innings.
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. ... RF Jay Bruce was back in the starting lineup. An inner-ear problem had limited him to one pinch-hit appearance the last two days. ... Stubbs' other game-ending homer was Aug. 29, 2009, against the Giants.