Reds beat Cubs to win eighth straight, take Central lead

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The last time the Reds got on this kind of a tear, they stayed in contention right down to the last game.

Brandon Phillips hit a two-run homer and first-place Cincinnati extended its best streak in seven years, beating the Chicago Cubs 7-1 on Thursday night for its eighth straight victory.

"We're going out there expecting to win right now," said Ryan Freel, who also homered and drove in a pair of runs. "That's a good feeling. We feel like somebody's going to do something to help us win. We're putting everything together."

The Reds are on their best roll since they won 10 in a row in 1999, the last time they made a run at the postseason. Cincinnati lost a one-game playoff to the Mets for the NL wild card that year.

Similarly, the current streak has had a big impact on a team that's wasn't expected to stay in contention very long. The fading Reds opened the month of June five games behind St. Louis in the NL Central but jumped a half-game ahead of the idle Cardinals with their latest win.

At 36-24, the Reds are 12 games over .500 for the first time since June 6, 2004.

"Right now, it feels like how we felt against St. Louis in the World Series -- that we should win," said right-hander Bronson Arroyo, thinking back to his title run with Boston two years ago.

Arroyo (8-2) beat the Cubs for the third time this season, giving up five hits, including Tony Womack's first homer, in seven innings. The lanky, long-haired pitcher has yet to lose at Great American Ball Park, where he's 4-0 in six starts.

"He can throw that curve at any count," said Todd Walker, who
had two of the Cubs' five hits. "He threw me a 2-0 curve, and you don't see much of that when you're in the big leagues. He knows what he's doing. It's almost a chess match with him and it seems like against us, he wins most of the time."

The Reds got Arroyo from Boston in a trade for Wily Mo Pena
during spring training, hoping he could significantly upgrade a rotation that was the NL's worst last season. He has. Arroyo leads the staff in victories, and his earned-run average of 2.31 is the league's second best.

"That trade for Arroyo gave everybody a lift," manager Jerry Narron said. "It gave everybody the idea that we were serious about winning. He's done more than you can ask for."

For the Cubs, it was another night of futile at-bats against Arroyo and two relievers. Chicago has lost three in a row, getting a total of 15 hits and two runs in those games.

The Cubs have lost 11 of their last 16 overall, falling 12½ games out of first place. At 23-36, they've matched their season low mark of 13 games under .500.

Chicago's Glendon Rusch (2-6) had a breakthrough of sorts. Heading into the game, the left-hander had already faced Arroyo twice this season and lost both times. Worse, Arroyo had homered off of him in both games.

Rusch struck out Arroyo twice on Thursday, ending that part of their head-to-head domination. But Rusch fell to 0-3 in their matchups because he couldn't handle the guys who batted right before him.

Rusch gave up Phillips' two-run homer in the fourth. David Ross, hitting in the eighth slot, followed with a solo homer that extended his hitting streak to 11 games. Ross also had a sacrifice fly.

"I left two pitches up, to Ross and Phillips," said Rusch, who is 2-5 in seven starts with an 8.42 ERA. "And as well as Bronson's thrown against us -- he did it again -- it was a tough night."

Freel also had a solo homer off Rusch, who has given up a staff-high 16. He was demoted to the bullpen in May and is 1-1 in two starts since rejoining the rotation.

"Glendon just made some mistakes," manager Dusty Baker said. "That home run ball, in this ballpark especially, can haunt you."

Game notes
Right-hander Kerry Wood is still scheduled to start Sunday. Wood was examined by Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who said that the occasional soreness in his shoulder is a normal part of his recovery from surgery last August. ... Womack's homer was his first since July 28, 2004, off Cincinnati's Todd Van Poppel. Womack started this season with the Reds, who released him on May 2. ... Center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was out of the Reds' lineup for the second consecutive game because of a sore thigh, injured during a slide. He's listed as day-to-day. ... Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion also missed his second consecutive game with a mild ankle sprain. He plans to take batting practice on Friday to test it.