SAN DIEGO (AP) — This is exactly the way the Cincinnati Reds wanted to play.
After struggling for much of their longest road trip of the season, the Reds erupted to win the final three games of the swing heading into the All-Star break.
All-Star Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick hit consecutive home runs, leading Johnny Cueto and the Reds past the San Diego Padres 4-2 Sunday.
The win put the Reds one game behind Pittsburgh for the NL Central lead.
“We needed it big time,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “We needed it to keep up to where we were.”
The Reds took over the division lead in late May. But when they dropped four of seven to start this 11-game road trip, Pittsburgh took over first place. The Pirates won six of seven going into the break.
Bruce and Ludwick connected two pitches apart in the fourth inning to give Cincinnati a 3-0 lead.
The Reds hit seven home runs in winning the final three of the four-game series. Cincinnati finished 6-5 on its trip.
“We really needed these games after the LA series where we lost two of three,” Ludwick said.
Said Baker: “Everybody has been running on fumes. I asked them to play through the break.”
Ludwick played for San Diego for about one full season from the time he was traded by St. Louis during the 2010 season until the Padres dealt him to Pittsburgh at the trading deadline last year.
He had little success hitting at pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
“This is a new year,” Ludwick said. “I feel like I’m hitting the ball a little bit differently. I think everyone knows that I kind of got pulled down a bit when I was here. I’m hitting the ball better now.”
Cueto (10-5), who felt snubbed when he was not picked for the NL All-Star team, looked solid until he ran into trouble in the sixth inning.
Cueto gave up two runs on seven hits in 5 2-3 innings and was pulled after issuing a bases-loaded walk. The right-hander struck out five, walked two, and hit two batters.
“The inning before my legs were tired — heavy legs,” Cueto said through an interpreter.
Cueto had reached base in the fifth on a fielder’s choice and went to third on a single.
All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect ninth for his 11th save in 15 chances.
Brandon Phillips led off the Reds fourth with a single and Bruce connected against Jason Marquis (1-5) for his 18th home run. Ludwick followed with his 12th home run, a shot into the second deck in left field.
The Reds came close to another home in the fifth run when Joey Votto, the NL All-Star starting first baseman, hit a deep drive into left-center field. Center fielder Cameron Maybin took a running leap and snared the ball right at the top of the wall just as he crashed into the padding.
“I was just positioned in the right spot,” Maybin said. “I got a good jump and saw where the wall was.”
The Padres went into the break at 34-53.
“It’s been kind of an up-and-down first half,” Maybin said. “We just have to continue to compete, continue to grind.”
Trailing 3-1, San Diego loaded the bases in the sixth with two outs on three singles. Pinch hitter Mark Kotsay fouled off three straight pitches with a full count before he drew a walk from Cueto.
“He was too high in the trouble count,” Baker said. “When he walked Kotsay, that was enough.”
Reliever Sam LeCure came in and retired Chris Denorfia on a fly ball.
Zack Cozart doubled and scored on Phillips’ single in the seventh. It was Cozart’s 21st double, the most by a rookie shortstop prior to the All-Star break, breaking the mark set by Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra in 1997.
Marquis allowed three runs on seven hits in five innings. The righty struck out five and did not walk a batter while making consecutive starts on three days’ rest for the fifth time in his career.
Marquis is 1-9 in his last 11 starts.
NOTES: After scoring one run in each of three consecutive defeats, the Reds scored 16 runs in the last three games at San Diego. … The Padres have lost only one of their last five series. … Reds 3B Scott Rolen was in the starting lineup for the first time since back spasms forced him out in the first inning last Sunday in San Francisco. He went 0 for 4 and struck out three times, dropping his batting average to .178.