MILWAUKEE -- Domingo Santana and the Brewers had no illusions that the Reds would just roll over and let them march to a Wild Card spot.
Santana's three-run homer keyed a four-run first inning for the Brewers, who spent the rest of Tuesday night playing keep-away in a 7-6 win over the relentless Reds at Miller Park. Three times, the Reds pulled within a run. Three times, the Brewers held on -- and held their ground in the chase for a postseason spot.
"It's been a real challenge to beat them all year," Santana said. "I'm glad we got that one."
Scott Schebler hit a two-run home run for the Reds in the second inning and Zack Cozart and Jesse Winker hit two-out solo homers in the seventh and eighth as the Reds kept coming. By fending off those comebacks, the Brewers stayed 1 1/2 games behind the Rockies for the second NL Wild Card spot and one game ahead of the Cardinals. All three clubs won Tuesday night.
Santana's homer and the first of Stephen Vogt's career-high three doubles highlighted a two-out, four-run opening-inning rally against Reds rookie Deck McGuire, who pitched three innings in his first Major League start.
Striking early has been the Brewers' habit all season. They have outscored opponents 110-67 in the first inning this season.
"It goes almost double when you have a young pitcher out there making his first big league start," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "You don't want him to get into his comfort zone. We didn't let him get comfortable and breathe. That was a big key."
The lead grew to 6-2 in the third, but with starter Zach Davies in a jam and fighting a bad head cold, Counsell opted to tap his bullpen with two on and nobody out in the fifth, so Josh Hader was awarded the win in relief.
The Reds, who swept the Brewers in a three-game series in Cincinnati from Sept. 4-6, again proved pesky. After center fielder Keon Broxton's diving grab to open the ninth -- he needed to cover 71 feet in 4.1 seconds to make the four-star catch, according to Statcast™ -- Cincinnati put the tying run in scoring position against Brewers closer Corey Knebel. The Brewers' All-Star closer struck out former teammate Scooter Gennett and retired Eugenio Suarez on a flyout down the right-field line for his 38th save.
"I feel like we battled the whole game. We just came up a little short," Schebler said. "We had a good run there in the ninth inning to put up some runs. They're a good team. We're never just going to give in. Our at-bats kind of displayed that tonight."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Out at home: Schebler's two-run homer cut the Brewers' lead in half in the second, and they were threatening for more when the next batter, Adam Duvall, singled with nobody out. Duvall tried to score from first base on Tucker Barnhart's double to left-center field, and Brewers center fielder Brett Phillips relayed the ball to shortstop Orlando Arcia, who fired a throw home that pulled catcher Vogt up the third-base line. Vogt was able to catch the ball and apply a tag in one motion for the first out of the inning, and Davies retired the next two batters to end the threat with no further runs.
"I know it was the second inning, but it's the play of the game," Counsell said. "It squashes that inning, makes that inning kind of go away. If we don't get an out there, they get a run and there's a lot happening. … Stephen made a heck of a catch, really. To make the catch and hold on was a heck of a play."
"I don't think he's trying to make something happen," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Hatcher sending Duvall. "He knows there's nobody out there. Unfortunately as those plays develop, what looks like the guy will score easily sometimes turn into that situation where it's, 'Hey, this might be a close play.' There's no way he's trying to force the issue there, even with the pitcher coming up."
Gennett's misfire: Phillips' routine bouncer to Gennett at second base with two on and two out in the third should have ended the inning. But the former Brewers infielder's throw was off-target for a costly two-run error that allowed Phillips to get all the way to third base while Milwaukee extended its lead to 6-2.
Cozart grinds it out: Hader retired the first eight Reds he faced on 30 pitches with six strikeouts, and he was one pitch away from striking out the side in the seventh inning when he put Cozart in an 0-2 count. But the All-Star shortstop battled his way back into one of the best at-bats of the night, fouling his way to a 10th pitch -- Hader's 40th -- and hitting it into the Brewers' bullpen in left-center field for a solo homer that made it a two-run game. Hader never got that third out in the inning, and the Reds tacked on another run after Anthony Swarzak took over to cut Milwaukee's lead to 6-5. Hader's 49 pitches were the most he'd thrown since Aug. 12, putting his availability for the rest of the series in question. More >
"I was trying to find that last strike, basically, but I left one pitch over the middle," Hader said. "But I kept the team in it, and that's the biggest thing."
"It never seems like a game is under control at this ballpark. It's strange, because we play in a pretty good offensive ballpark, as well. When we come here, it's craziness. It's lunacy. It was a 6-2 Brewers lead and then here we come. We made a really nice push there." -- Price, on the slugfests the Reds and Brewers have had at Miller Park this season
"They're a good young ballclub. I think they're in the same situation as us, where nobody had expectations for them. But they're playing really well, guys are getting experience and they're having fun. They're playing good baseball." -- Davies, on the Reds
WHAT'S NEXT Reds:Homer Bailey will make his 18th and final start of the season when the series at Miller Park continues at 8:10 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Bailey is 1-1 with a 7.07 ERA in his three starts vs. the Brewers in 2017, but he allowed three earned runs on six hits over six-plus innings against them on Sept. 4 in a Reds win.
Brewers:Brandon Woodruff's eighth big league start will be his first against the Reds. He already pitched once on this final homestand, allowing four earned runs on five hits in five innings against the Cubs on Friday night, taking a no-decision in a 10-inning loss. First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CT.