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CIN@HOU: Bruce lifts a three-run shot to right-center

HOUSTON -- The Reds continue to take care of business in Houston against the rebuilding Astros, and their lead in the National League Central continues to grow.

Behind Zack Cozart's two-run homer and Jay Bruce's three-run blast, the Reds cruised to a 9-3 victory on Friday. The Reds, who have won four in a row, are 6-1 at Minute Maid Park this season.

The Cardinals and Pirates both lost on Friday, so the Reds enter September with a 9 1/2-game division lead, a season high. The Reds are 34-14 since the All-Star break, the best record over that stretch in the Majors.

"Obviously I think the present is always the most important, but especially now [that] it's September and we've got a pretty good lead, it's a good time for us to finish up strong and really go and finish up September and hopefully go into the postseason strong," Bruce said.

The Reds scored more than eight runs for the first time since Aug. 10.

Dioner Navarro led off the Reds' third with a double off Astros starter Fernando Abad and came home on Cozart's two-run shot to left field, his 15th homer of the season. With the homer, Cozart became the fourth Reds shortstop to collect 30 doubles and 15 homers in a season. The other three: Felipe Lopez (2005), Barry Larkin (1996, '98) and Eddie Miller ('47).

Cozart doubled to lead off the fifth and scored on Chris Heisey's RBI single. Ryan Ludwick then singled before Bruce hit his 28th homer of the season, a no-doubter to right-center field, to give the Reds a 6-2 lead.

Bruce, from nearby Beaumont, Texas, continues to show well in Houston. He's batting .288 (34-for-118) with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 35 career games at Minute Maid Park. He said he feels comfortable in front of his friends and family.

"Maybe that I'm close to home," Bruce said. "I'm comfortable. I like the park. I can't really explain it."

Brandon Phillips drove in Heisey in the seventh with a single to make the score 7-2. Phillips went 3-for-5 with a double and carries a 10-game hitting streak. He is batting .432 (19-for-44) during that span.

The Reds added two more in the eighth behind an RBI single by Miguel Cairo and an RBI groundout by Heisey. Every Reds starter -- except for pitcher Mike Leake -- either scored or picked up a hit.

"That's kind of been the M.O. of this team the past couple of months now," Bruce said. "Everyone steps up when they need to."

"That team over there is designed to hit three-run homers and two-run homers," Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "They have three or four guys that can definitely hurt a baseball, and you see why they're where they're at. They've got a ton of guys with 25 home runs, and they have guys with 14 home runs on the bench."

Leake earned his seventh win of the season, and third in his last four starts, throwing six innings and allowing two runs. After sitting at 0-5 on May 11, Leake has climbed back to 7-8.

"I think I need to get back there," said Leake of finishing with a .500 record. "It's not something I'm going to stress to myself, but I would definitely like to get back and possibly over it."

Leake left runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings. To lead off the fourth, Fernando Martinez and Matt Dominguez hit back-to-back homers off Leake to tie the game at 2.

"Solo home runs don't bother you too much," Leake said. "One was a pretty big mistake, and one, it wasn't a bad pitch, but something he could drop his hands to. The only thing you can do is get back on track. If you dwell on it you're going to probably give up more."

He motored through the fifth, getting a lineout and two strikeouts. After Jimmy Paredes' single to lead off the sixth, Leake retired the next three batters in order.

"He didn't pitch great, but he pitched good enough to win," manager Dusty Baker said. "We were satisfied. He's probably not satisfied, but we scored a lot of runs."

Leake made way for reliever Sam LeCure to start the seventh. LeCure pitched a scoreless seventh, and Alfredo Simon gave up one run over the final two innings.

The Reds finished August with a 19-11 record.

"Everybody was energetic today," Baker said. "Everybody knew what was at stake. The guys were playing ball. They're playing very good baseball."

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