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Bruce's no-doubter earns Reds NL Central title

Bruce's no-doubter earns Reds NL Central title

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CINCINNATI -- One pitch, one swing and one very huge moment on Tuesday has likely permanently etched Jay Bruce in the annals of a very long Reds history.

On the first pitch he saw from lefty reliever Tim Byrdak, Bruce launched a no-doubt drive to center field for a walk-off home run that gave the Reds a 3-2 win over the Astros and clinched the National League Central.

It was the fifth time in Major League history that a player has hit a walk-off homer to send his team into the playoffs. The others: Bobby Thomson (Giants, Oct. 3, 1951), Hank Aaron (Braves, Sept. 23, 1957), Alfonso Soriano (Yankees, Sept. 24, 1999) and Steve Finley (Dodgers, Oct. 2, 2004).

"I really can't dream of hitting a walk-off to win the division," a celebration-drenched Bruce said. "It's unbelievable. It's a great team. I've been so happy to be around it. It's been awesome."

There was probably no more appropriate way for the Reds to clinch the division. Like so many times this season, it required last at-bat clutch performances. This one made the Reds' 22nd win of the season in their final at-bat, tied for second most in the NL. More importantly, it was Cincinnati's first postseason appearance and division crown since 1995.

Until the final at-bat, Bruce was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a double play vs. Astros left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez, against whom he was 1-for-20 lifetime. Manager Dusty Baker started the lefty-hitting Bruce anyway.

And Byrdak was another left-handed pitcher to reckon with for Bruce, who came into the night batting a respectable .260 vs. lefties.

Byrdak (2-2) offered Bruce a 90-mph fastball. Bruce connected, and the ball got off his bat in a hurry.

"I was looking for a fastball," he said.

"In that situation, I had a plan that I wanted to do, and I didn't quite execute it the way I wanted and I left the ball over the middle of the plate," Byrdak said. "I wanted to keep it away from him. I had watched Wandy and he threw his hard stuff and soft stuff away. It's a pitch I left over the middle of the plate, and a mistake you're not wanting to make right there, but, unfortunately, those things happen."

Bruce didn't have to wait for the ball to land as he raised his right arm in the air one step out of the batters' box while 30,151 fans (including a walkup of 7,786) at Great American Ball Park released deafening screams.

The home run -- Bruce's 22nd of the season -- easily cleared the fence and landed in the berm below the batters' eye in center field. After he circled the bases briskly, Bruce was mobbed at home plate by teammates as the scrum bounced and bounced together towards the mound.

"Jay will remember that the rest of his life -- until he does something else dramatic, hopefully, in the playoffs to follow," Baker said.

Reds starter Edinson Volquez pitched six innings and allowed two earned runs on seven hits with one walk and eight strikeouts. Volquez has all but cemented his spot in the playoff rotation with a 1.95 ERA over three starts since returning from Class A Dayton.

"This is what we've been looking for because it's been a long time since we've been in the playoffs, and we did it tonight," Volquez said. "We've got to keep going."

Both Houston runs scored off Volquez in the second inning after he gave up back-to-back singles. Jason Castro's RBI single to left field scored Brett Wallace. Rodriguez squeeze bunted toward third base as Angel Sanchez scored and gave Houston a 2-1 lead.

Volquez caught a nice break in the third inning when Drew Stubbs' spectacular leaping catch over the center-field fence robbed Carlos Lee of a two-run homer.

"That kept us in the game," Baker said. "I thought that ball was gone. Stubby looks like he had wings when he got up for that ball. Maybe somebody had wings for him."

Rodriguez held the Reds and the crowd down by allowing only one infield hit over the first five innings. In the sixth, the Reds had a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity. But only one run scored when Brandon Phillips dropped an infield hit into the hole at shortstop that plated Orlando Cabrera with the tying run.

The rally died when Bruce grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.

After Arthur Rhodes and Nick Masset followed Volquez with a scoreless inning each, Aroldis Chapman (2-2) was the winning pitcher after a 1-2-3 ninth. The Reds' rookie sensation, Chapman struck out his first two batters and induced a groundout to short.

The rest was up to Bruce, the Reds' first-round Draft pick in 2005 who reached the Majors with much attention in 2008.

Inside the clubhouse, teammates muscled Bruce into a circle and drenched him with champagne and beer, and yelled his name like Reds fans have most of the season.

"Bruuuuuuuuce."

"It couldn't have happened to a better guy," said Reds first baseman Joey Votto. "To win it in the bottom of the ninth to clinch a playoff berth -- it's fantastic. It's a big moment, and we've shown a lot of resiliency and done a lot of coming back. Today doesn't really surprise me."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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