CINCINNATI -- Despite already having a winning series over the Cubs and a winning homestand, Wednesday's finale for the Reds proved as pleasant as being trapped in a three-hour chat with Debbie Downer.
A 4-1 loss during a hot, muggy day at Great American Ball Park meant no three-game series sweep. It made for a 5-4 homestand record instead of a more pleasant-sounding 6-3 mark. Save for a Jay Bruce two-out RBI single that scored Drew Stubbs in the third inning, there wasn't much offense. After that hit, Cubs starter Ryan Dempster and three Chicago relievers retired 19 of the final 20 and struck out 12 overall.
"We had a chance for a sweep. That three in a row is eluding us, big time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We'll get it. We're like real close. Perhaps we'll turn it around on this road trip. The last road trip, we had a bad one [2-8 record], so we're due for an excellent one."
The Reds sensed a great day was ahead when they learned Dempster might not start the game because of a hip strain. As Cubs manager Mike Quade met with Baker to exchange lineup cards, reliever Rodrigo Lopez was warming up just in case.
"I said, 'I'm not sure right now who's coming out of the bullpen,'" Quade said. "If Demp can get his hip loose -- he sat down and got back up and said he felt fine."
Dempster labored through the first inning as the Reds had a bases-loaded, one-out rally slip away. Miguel Cairo, who hit a big grand slam in Tuesday's win, popped out to second base, and Fred Lewis grounded out to first base.
"We thought he was scratched from the game originally at the start," Stubbs said. "I guess he battled through whatever he had going and turned in a pretty good performance. You could see he got more comfortable. The first couple of innings, he wasn't throwing as hard as he normally did. Then he got his velocity back."
Reds starter Bronson Arroyo was enjoying a smooth day until one out in the fourth, when shortstop Paul Janish made a fielding error on a Blake Dewitt grounder. Carlos Pena fouled off a pair of 2-2 pitches before taking Arroyo deep into the right-field seats for a two-run homer. On the very next pitch, Aramis Ramirez made it back-to-back homers when he went deep to left field for a 3-1 Cubs lead.
"I was trying to get in on Pena, and he kept fouling off cutter after cutter after cutter, and I just wanted to move it up three or four inches closer to him," Arroyo said. "But I moved it three or four inches away from him, and he hit that ball out of the park. Aramis is a great breaking-ball hitter. I just wanted to get strike one on him."
That gave Arroyo 16 homers allowed for the season, tying him with the Astros' Brett Myers. Arroyo was charged with four runs (three earned) over 6 1/3 innings, including one intentional walk and three strikeouts.
"Bronson threw the ball well today," Baker said. "He just got bit by the long ball. We just have to figure out how to keep the ball in the ballpark."
The fourth Cubs run came after Arroyo exited in the seventh. With runners on the corners and two outs, reliever Jose Arredondo had a 3-2 count on Ramirez when his balk forced home Kosuke Fukudome, who Arroyo was responsible for. Arredondo made a pickoff move to first base and held on to the ball upon realizing Joey Votto wasn't holding the runner.
"We were trying to cover that hole but just didn't communicate and tell [Arredondo] we were playing off the bag at 3-2," Baker said. "We have to tighten up our game in all departments. If we do that, we'll be great."
Coming into the game, the Cubs had lost a season-high eight games in a row. The last time the Reds won three in a row came during a five-game win streak, during which they swept the Cardinals and Cubs from May 13-17. Since the previous Chicago series, the Reds have gone 7-14 to sit in third place in the National League Central with a 32-31 overall record.
A sweep would have been a very nice springboard heading into a seven-game West Coast road trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Following that journey is an Interleague homestand vs. the Blue Jays and Yankees.
"Right now, we're just fighting to get every win we can, and we just can't seem to be able to catch a nice streak where they seem to come easy," Arroyo said. "Everything has been difficult. It's not going to get any easier in the next couple of weeks."