Reds 9, Cubs 6

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CINCINNATI (AP)—Once an overheated Greg Maddux started seeing little white dots, his chance to reach the 3,000-strikeout mark was gone.

That wasn’t the end of his woozy afternoon. A bullpen meltdown a few innings later cost Maddux that elusive first win at Great American Ball Park as well.

Roberto Novoa (2-3) balked home the tying run in the eighth, and Austin Kearns followed with a two-run single Thursday afternoon, rallying the Cincinnati Reds to a 9-6 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Javier Valentin homered twice and Rich Aurilia had a solo shot, helping the Reds gain a split of their four-game series.

Maddux lasted only five innings on a steamy afternoon, turning a 5-3 lead over to the bullpen. He has yet to win in four starts at Great American Ball Park, where he has an 8.14 ERA.

He ran the bases twice—on an RBI single and while vainly trying to beat out his double-play grounder. By the end of the fifth, he was spent.

“I don’t know what did it,” Maddux said. “I just didn’t feel right. I started seeing those little white things. It kind of spooked me a little bit.”

Maddux struck out four, leaving him two shy of becoming the 13th pitcher to reach the 3,000 mark. He will try again next week at Wrigley Field.

Novoa pitched out of a bases-loaded, none-out threat in the seventh to preserve a 5-4 lead, with center fielder Jerry Hairston making a diving catch on Aurilia’s sinking liner to end the inning.

The Reds rallied in the eighth on a hit, a walk and Novoa’s balk, then loaded the bases again with two outs. Kearns, who spent the last six weeks with Triple-A Louisville losing weight and fine-tuning his swing, singled off Ryan Dempster for the go-ahead runs.

Kearns returned to Cincinnati on Wednesday night, too late to get into the game. He batted cleanup Thursday and went 3-for-5 with the most important hit.

“I’m not out for personal issues or to prove people wrong,” said Kearns, who wasn’t happy with the demotion. “In the past I’ve tried to do that, and it made it that much harder; I tried to do too much. I learned to relax in Louisville and was reminded that it’s a game. It’s nice to get off to a good start.”

Aurilia completed the eighth-inning rally with another two-run single off Dempster, the fifth Cubs pitcher. Brian Shackelford (1-0) pitched the eighth for his first major league win.

Running the bases on a humid, 85-degree afternoon sapped Maddux, who went eight innings in each of his last two starts. He gave up Aurilia’s solo homer and Valentin’s two-run shot.

“You’ve got to try to keep it in the park here, and I didn’t do it very well,” Maddux said. “But at least I left some guys on base.”

Todd Walker’s three-run homer off left-hander Eric Milton put the Cubs up 5-1 in the fourth, but they couldn’t hold on against the majors’ best comeback team. It was the 14th time the Reds have won by overcoming a deficit of at least three runs, best in the majors.

The NL’s top power teams spent the series taking advantage of the majors’ most homer-friendly park. More have been hit at Great American than anyplace else.

Aramis Ramirez hit his 25th homer in the ninth for Chicago, which hit 11 in the series to Cincinnati’s seven. The Reds have 128 overall this season, two more than the Cubs.

Chicago’s problem all series long was stranding runners. The Cubs left nine on base Thursday, four of them in scoring position.

“It is frustrating,” manager Dusty Baker said. “They took that game from us. We were hoping that Greg could have gone longer, but he was out of gas after running the bases a couple of times. We had to go to the bullpen a little bit earlier than we wanted to, so our bullpen was really spent today.”

The focus was on Maddux, who got his first big league win in Cincinnati in 1986 against the team he rooted for as a boy. He got a quick start toward the strikeout mark, fanning leadoff batter Ryan Freel on three pitches. He got two more strikeouts in the second, leaving him halfway there.

After that, the four-time Cy Young winner had a more important thing on his mind—keeping cool. Once the dots appeared, he was done.

Notes

Maddux is 19-15 against the Reds. … C Michael Barrett extended his hitting streak to eight games. … The Reds sent reliever Ben Weber to Class-A Dayton to start a medical rehabilitation assignment. The right-hander has been on the DL since May 9 with a bulging disc in his neck. … Milton has given up 30 homers, most in the majors. … Ramirez’s ninth homer at Great American tied him with four others for most by an opponent there. He had four homers in the four-game series.

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