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Reds fall one rally shy of series sweep

Final rally eludes Reds in finale loss

CINCINNATI -- The Reds squeezed virtually every potential moment out of the drama catalog, but they couldn't close the sale on the one they wanted most.

Joey Votto went from a flu-ridden absence to hitting a homer in his first bat in the seventh inning. There were two ninth-inning home runs, including fifth-starter Micah Owings' pinch-hit blast that tied the game. There were five long balls overall, but in the end, there was no victory.

Instead, an 8-7 loss to the Cardinals denied the Reds what they desired -- a three-game sweep of the National League Central's first-place team.

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"We came out on the losing end but played a good baseball game," said Jay Bruce, who hit his 10th homer of the season on a two-run shot in the third inning. "We'll win a lot of those. It was good to take the series and take it on the road with us."

In the four-hour, 23-minute contest that featured 401 pitches and 11 pitching changes, Cincinnati never led once past the sixth inning -- though the team tied it up three times.

"We battled the whole game and kept fighting back," said third baseman Adam Rosales, who hit his first Major League homer in the fourth inning and sprinted around the bases in a swift 15 seconds. "The outcome wasn't the way we wanted it to be. There's always tomorrow."

None of the comeback efforts were more exciting that in the bottom of the ninth. St. Louis had a 7-5 lead when Jerry Hairston Jr. connected for a leadoff home run to left field off Ryan Franklin (1-0). But it got better.

With two outs and most of the bench used up, manager Dusty Baker went to his not-so-secret weapon in Owings. The solid-hitting pitcher lifted a 3-2 pitch into the first row of seats in left field for a game-tying homer, sending the game into extras and 27,664 fans at Great American Ball Park into euphoria.

And a few players on the Reds' bench, too. Owings accepted a curtain call at the top step of the dugout.

"It's like what you do in your backyard -- 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth," Bruce said. "It's crazy. It was a huge spot to do that. Joey and I were jumping around. It was awesome."

It was the sixth homer of Owings' career, and his first since April 30, 2008. He's batting .333 this season and .321 lifetime.

Owings' long ball trumped Votto's earlier shot. He entered in a double switch in the top of the seventh to loud applause. Leading off the bottom of the frame, Votto hit a homer to left field, his fourth of the season, off Kyle McClellan.

In the top of the 10th inning against Francisco Cordero (0-2), Colby Rasmus hit a one-out RBI double to right-center field that had Joe Thurston scoring from first base with the go-ahead run.

A final Reds rally came up short in the bottom half of the 10th, despite featuring runners on first and second with no outs. After getting a 2-0 count from reliever Blaine Bowyer, Hairston missed two sacrifice bunt attempts before striking out.

"Usually he doesn't go for those pitches," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "[Boyer] couldn't find the plate. Usually Jerry is very fundamentally sound and comes through almost all the time in that situation."

Cincinnati would end the game stranding the bases loaded when pinch-hitter Paul Janish fouled out.

"It would have been huge," Baker said about the near-win. "That gives us something to keep fighting for and lets you know what you can do. It lets you know you're never out of the game."

The sweep may have vanished in their hands, but the Reds sent the message they wanted.

"I think we did," Bruce said. "We played well. We can beat anybody in this league. We've shown that."

Cincinnati still took two of three from St. Louis and finished with a 3-2 homestand while chugging ahead largely without big hitters like Votto and Brandon Phillips. Good pitching and lots of slack were picked up to sustain the club while they were shorthanded.

The 17-14 Reds are tied for third place in the NL Central, 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals. Not a bad place to be, considering the alternative.

But it could have been even better, and everyone knew it.

"Foremost is we were in line to get a sweep," Baker said. "We could have been a half a game out instead of 2 1/2 games right now. That's why it was so big. We'll be around for a long time."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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