Homers haunt Rusch, Cubs vs. Reds

Homers haunt Rusch, Cubs vs. Reds

CINCINNATI -- How different are the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds? The Reds have clubbed 85 home runs, while the Cubs have hit just 45.

Brandon Phillips and David Ross hit back-to-back homers to power the Reds to a 7-1 victory over the Cubs on Thursday to move Cincinnati into sole possession of first place in the National League Central.

"It's not about homers, it's about figuring out wins," said Tony Womack, who hit his first home run to account for the Cubs' only run. "We have to continue to keep clawing. We've got to believe."

The Cubs began this NL Central junket on a good note.

"It looked good when we started the road trip with two out of three in St. Louis," second baseman Todd Walker said.

The Cubs have lost four of their last five games, but Womack said that he doesn't see a lack of effort.

"I see guys coming early and getting their work in and everybody trying to get themselves ready for the game like they're supposed to," Womack said. "That's what we have to continue to do.

"We're OK. What we have to do is scratch and claw and keep our head [up] until we're at full strength. That's what we have to do -- and the guys are doing it, but we're just not getting the breaks. We have to continue to do it."

The Cubs will be just fine if they don't have to face Bronson Arroyo again. Now 8-2, Arroyo picked up his third win this season against the Cubs. The right-hander with the rock band gave up five hits over seven innings and struck out three.

"[Arroyo] mixes it up well," Walker said. "He throws offspeed stuff to get you looking for that, and then blows that 91, 92 [mph] in there. He's very effective. He can throw the curveball in any count -- he threw me a 2-0 curveball, and you don't see too much of that in the big leagues.

"It's almost a chess match with him, and it seems like against us, he wins most of the time."

Glendon Rusch (2-6) took the loss, serving up three home runs and giving up five runs on seven hits and one walk over 3 2/3 innings. This was Rusch's seventh start, but not his shortest. He was pulled after 2 2/3 innings against Milwaukee on April 29, then assigned to the bullpen for the month of May. The left-hander has given up 29 earned runs in 31 innings as a starter for a 8.42 ERA.

"I left two pitches up, especially to Ross and Phillips," Rusch said. "As well as Bronson is throwing against us, he did it again. It was a tough night."

How can Rusch be more consistent?

"The key is making quality pitches when I need to," he said. "Both of those pitches were behind in the count, 2-1 counts. I was behind and left pitches up, and that's how you get hurt."

With one out in the first, Womack's homer gave the Cubs an early boost. It was his first since July 28, 2004, when he connected for the St. Louis Cardinals. That homer also came in Cincinnati.

"The last one I had here was off Todd Van Poppel," Womack said. "When you don't hit many, you remember them. I'm not a home run hitter, but I try to get on base for the big boys. It just so happened [that] I hit one good and it left -- if you hit one square in this park, it's going to go."

The Reds know that. They answered in the bottom of the inning on Rich Aurilia's one-out RBI double and took a 2-1 lead on Ryan Freel's leadoff homer in the third, his fourth. With one out and one on in the Cincinnati fourth, Phillips connected on his sixth home run to give the Reds a 4-1 lead, and Ross immediately followed with his sixth homer.

Austin Kearns led off the fourth with a single and was forced out at second on Scott Hatteberg's grounder. Cubs manager Dusty Baker thought that his team had a chance at a double play on Hatteberg's ball, but shortstop Ronny Cedeno couldn't turn it.

"Ronny didn't think he had a play," Baker said. "That would've erased the bases before they got the runs. Glendon just made some mistakes. He got the ball over the plate. That home run ball, especially in this park, can haunt you, which it did."

What's really hurting the Cubs is their starters' inabilty to go deep in games. This was the second game in the last three in which Chicago's starting pitcher didn't go past the fourth inning.

"When starters go deep, things work out like they should," Baker said. "I just hope we don't destroy our bullpen, because right now, that's our strength."

Cincinnati has won eight in a row and improved to 25-12 against NL Central teams.

"They've got a great team over there right now. They've got a good thing going," Walker said. "Overall tonight, we just got beat."

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