Hernandez HR in 9th lifts Reds over Brewers

CINCINNATI

This is the team the Cincinnati Reds need to dominate, the team over which the Reds need to be the alpha dog, the team the Reds need to pound like a punching bag until the stuffing comes out of the stitches.

These are not the 2010 Milwaukee Brewers. These are not the Brewers the Reds put to their knees and had covering their heads while mumbling, “No mas.” The Reds beat them 11 times in 14 games and most of the victories were mercy killings.

These are the new, improved, pitching-rich Brewers, probably the one team that can interrupt the Reds’ march to a second straight National League Central championship. So the Reds’ 7-6 Opening Day win over Milwaukee on Thursday, delivered on Ramon Hernandez’s walk-off homer in the ninth, sent a serious message.

It appears the 2011 Reds are the same combination of moxie and mayhem that made up the 2010 Reds. No game is over before its time, and it is not quitting time until the time clock is punched.

But on the strength of three home runs, two of them back to back against Edinson Volquez to open the game, the Brewers took a three-run lead into the ninth.

This is where the Brewers need to put the Reds under their cleats and rotate their heels and toes until the Reds are dust. And it didn’t happen.

All last season, time after time, the Reds staged unfathomable rallies in the late innings, many times pulling out games in their last at-bat. And that modus operandi appears not to have changed one iota.

This time it was the veteran catcher Hernandez putting on the hero’s crown, with a three-run, opposite-field homer with two outs. It was Hernandez’s fourth hit.

“I knew (Milwaukee closer) John Axford likes to use his fastball a lot,” Hernandez said. “I was trying to catch up with one of his fastballs, hit it hard somewhere to keep the game going. He left it out over the plate, I hit it pretty good and it went over the fence.”

And Great American Ballpark was a den of delirium.

“We never lose hope, we always have faith,” Hernandez said. “Don’t give up until the last out happens. You never know what might happen. That’s why we came back to win so many games last year.

“For this to happen to me on Opening Day — it is amazing,” Hernandez added. “We don’t want to win it like that, but we did. To me, it is amazing because I helped my team win a ballgame.

“One thing our team does is that everyone tries to give their best at-bat,” Hernandez added. “We try to get on base. One thing we do is never give up at-bats.”

With his team down 6-3 in the ninth, Brandon Phillips hit a ball so hard off the left-field wall that he could get only a single. Joey Votto followed with a walk before the game-changing play.

Scott Rolen grounded to third baseman Casey McGehee, who tried to tag Phillips coming to third, but Phillips squirmed inside and avoided the tag. McGehee threw to first, but Rolen beat that, loading the bases with no outs.

Jay Bruce struck out and Jonny Gomes flied to deep center, scoring Phillips. Then on the second pitch he saw, Hernandez ended matters in a Cincinnati minute and in dramatic fashion.

The Brewers already were loaded with firepower. Now with the addition of starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, the Brewers are well-armed in the pitching department.

And neither Marcum nor Greinke (on the DL) pitched Thursday. The Opening Day start was handled by Yovani Gallardo, and he held the Reds to two runs and seven hits over six innings while Rickie Weeks, Carlos Gomez (the back-to-back shots to open the game) and Ryan Braun backed him with homers.

The Reds countered with home runs by Drew Stubbs and Votto, but the Reds stranded 10 runners in eight innings. Hernandez made sure the total didn’t reach 12.

“Same personnel and looks like the same fashion of winning,” said Stubbs, who had a double and a home run while batting leadoff. “The way they got off to the fast start and maintained the lead throughout the game, they probably felt they had the game pretty well in hand. When you hand the ball to Axford, a great pitcher and reliable closer, then we scratch some runners on base and Ramon hits the homer — it has to be a huge blow to them and a huge boost for us.”

“We struggled to put together productive innings,” he added. “We got some baserunners but couldn’t capitalize. But the way it ended was a huge shot in the arm.”