HOUSTON -- For more than two years, Drew Stubbs stood in the outfield and watched Francisco Cordero, then with the Reds, try to finish off ballgames. Watching the closer pitch in all those games definitely helped Stubbs on Tuesday.
The center fielder hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the ninth inning off Cordero, the new Astros closer, to give the Reds their first lead. Xavier Paul, making his first start for the Reds, then added a run with an RBI single and closer Aroldis Chapman shut the door on a 4-2 victory at Minute Maid Park.
Now on a six-game winning streak, the Reds have won 13 of their last 15 games and hold a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League Central.
"We're going to ride this thing for as long as we can and try to hopefully put some space between us and the rest of the division," Stubbs said.
The Reds, who picked up their 24th come-from-behind win, hadn't hit a homer in 28 innings until Stubbs hit his 10th of the season. He lifted the ball down the left-field line into the short porch at Minute Maid Park, bringing home Zack Cozart from first base.
Stubbs, batting .220 before Tuesday's game, didn't expect Cordero to throw a third straight slider after throwing the first two for balls. A 3-for-4 night at the plate, coupled with a timely go-ahead homer, could help Stubbs gain some confidence and cash in on some of the potential he's always shown.
"It's a process," Stubbs said. "It's not an overnight thing. I think you've got to string together a few weeks of that to really get to feeling good. This is a start, and hopefully I can kind of climb back to where I need to be."
Manager Dusty Baker knows Stubbs is better than his numbers show this season.
"It frustrates him, I'm sure, and it frustrates us, too, because we know it's there," Baker said. "I'd love to see him get going. It'd make it a lot easier on him."
Cordero, who had 150 saves for the Reds from 2008-11, said that blowing the save against his former team wasn't the reason why the loss, the Astros' 21st in their last 23 games, stung. The closer felt he wasted a strong outing from Lucas Harrell, who gave up one run over seven innings.
"He threw an unbelievable game and they gave me the chance to get a save and he could get a 'W,' and I didn't [finish it]. I made a mistake and Drew Stubbs hit it out and they won," Cordero said.
The Reds nearly wasted a strong outing from their own starter.
Mike Leake hung a breaking ball to Justin Maxwell in the fourth inning, and he took the pitch into the left-field seats for a two-run homer. Other than that, Leake kept the ball on the ground and in front of his outfielders, recording 13 groundouts and just two flyouts.
Leake went eight innings, spreading seven hits and striking out six. He left the game for pinch-hitter Ryan Ludwick in the ninth with the Reds trailing, 2-1, and earned his fourth win after the Reds' three-run ninth.
"Leaky threw the ball great," Baker said. "He just made one mistake. He hung the breaking ball to Maxwell, but other than that, he was masterful. We tried to stay with him as long as we could."
In his last 13 starts, Leake is 4-1 with a 3.02 ERA.
Chapman was slow to cover first base on a grounder from Chris Johnson to lead off the ninth, allowing Johnson to reach on an infield single. In typical dominant fashion, however, Chapman struck out the next three Astros in order, all with fastballs topping 100 mph, to record his 18th save. In 46 2/3 innings, Chapman has 89 strikeouts, 11 more than Leake.
Paul picked up his first hit with the Reds in the second inning and drove in a run in the sixth with an infield single. He finished the game 3-for-5 with two RBIs.
"Just trying to get him some playing time against the right people and he responded well tonight, especially in front of his home folks who came over from Louisiana," Baker said.
In four pinch-hitting appearances heading into Tuesday, Paul was 0-for-3 with a walk. He spent most of the first half of the season playing every day at Triple-A, most recently with the Reds' team in Louisville.
"Pinch-hitting is tough to do," Paul said. "Every now and then, getting a start here and there, keeps you ready."
Recent results wouldn't suggest that the Reds are missing their most potent hitter, first baseman Joey Votto. With the slugger out of the lineup, the Reds are 7-2.
Clark Goble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.