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ATL@CIN: Stubbs belts a walk-off homer in the ninth

CINCINNATI -- A two-game winning streak is as modest as those kinds of streaks go, but the Reds were starving for just that. Drew Stubbs finally made it happen with one swing in the ninth inning.

On the first pitch from Braves reliever Scott Linebrink, Stubbs led off the bottom of the ninth with an opposite field drive into the right-field seats for a walk-off home run and a thrilling 4-3 Reds victory on Sunday night. Winning the last two games of the weekend gave Cincinnati the three-game series and consecutive victories for the first time in 31 games.

"All I can say is OMG! It feels good to finally get back-to-back wins," said Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning. "The way we did it, we're used to doing that. I heard it was since June. That's crazy."

Crazy, but true. The scuffling 50-51 Reds hadn't strung at least two wins together since June 13-15, when they swept a three-game series from the Dodgers.

"I honestly wasn't aware of it until everybody kept talking about it," Stubbs said. "We knew we hadn't played our best baseball so far this year. We definitely have the pieces of the puzzle to make a run. Hopefully this series win can be a spark for us to get hot in the future."

With the Pirates beating the Cardinals and the Giants beating the Brewers earlier in the day, a three-way tie for first place exists in the National League Central. The Reds moved up to three games back -- easy striking distance if they can a more significant winning streak going.

"We're right where we need to be," Stubbs said. "It's going to be a dogfight to the end of this thing. I don't think any team is going to run away with it."

The Reds took a 2-0 first-inning lead on Phillips' homer to right field against Braves starter Brandon Beachy. In the the second with one out, Miguel Cairo made it a 3-0 game with a 421-foot homer into the left-field seats.

In his third start back in the big leagues, lefty Dontrelle Willis pitched a strong game and worked into the seventh. Willis looked to be in trouble during the third when he cracked the fingernail on his left index finger after striking out Martin Prado. He was looked over by the trainer and pitching coach Bryan Price, who got the bullpen stirring. Willis, however, remained in the game.

"I've done it before. I should be fine," said Willis, who gave up three earned runs and six hits over 6 1/3 innings with three walks and three strikeouts. "Whatever it takes. The pitch I did it on was a strikeout, so if I crack my finger every time, we'll be good."

Willis gave up two runs in the fourth, including a leadoff homer by Brian McCann. He returned for the seventh with only 79 pitches thrown, but he could not hold a the one-run lead. Nate McLouth hit a one-out single and moved to second base on a wild pitch in the dirt to pinch-hitter Julio Lugo. It proved to be a critical mistake as Lugo lined the game-tying RBI single into center field.

"The bottom of the lineup beat me today," Willis said. "I have to do a little better job getting outs, especially towards the end of the game. This is a talented ballclub that we took two out of three from. They're flying high."

Reds manager Dusty Baker lifted Willis for Nick Masset, who gave up Prado's single and put the go-ahead run on second base. Lefty Aroldis Chapman took over and came up big to quiet Atlanta. Left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward grounded Chapman's first pitch to shortstop for the inning-ending double play.

"One-pitch double play, a pitcher's best friend right there, and our best friend," Baker said.

Chapman retired the side in order in the eighth and wound up throwing nine pitches for eight strikes and recording five outs.

Francisco Cordero earned the win with a scoreless top of the ninth, but there were some tense moments after a leadoff single by Alex Gonzalez. There was one out when McLouth hit a drive to the deepest part of the ballpark in left-center field, where Stubbs made a long run and collided with left fielder Chris Heisey at the fence before making the catch as Gonzalez tagged up and went to third base.

The runner was stranded when Cordero struck out pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad looking to end the inning. It was Conrad who delivered a crushing walk-off grand slam against Cordero that tipped off of former left fielder Laynce Nix's glove last season in Atlanta.

Linebrink began and ended the ninth with one pitch to Stubbs that gave the Reds their first Sunday Night Baseball victory this season. Cincinnati had been 0-3 on Sunday nights in 2011.

"That's the M.O. on him -- fastballs down and away," Linebrink said. "That's how we've pitched him every series we've played them. We executed the pitch; he just hit a pitch he's not supposed to."

Stubbs raised his right arm in the air when the ball cleared the fence and received a thumping from celebrating teammates at home plate.

"I went up there just looking for a good fastball to hit over the plate," Stubbs said. "He gave it to me and I was able to put a good swing on it. The rest is history."

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