MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun was searching for a slump-busting hit, and found one in the eighth inning of a tie game against a division rival.
Braun's two-run home run beat the Reds, 4-2, at Miller Park on Saturday night, simultaneously maintaining Milwaukee's 4 1/2-game cushion in the National League Central and providing a dose of relief for a hitter who did not hold back in evaluating his recent results.
"I think the last week or two, my swing has probably fluctuated somewhere between terrible and awful," Braun said.
Saturday marked progress, even if it was measured progress. Before connecting against Reds reliever J.J. Hoover with one out and a man on base, Braun was homerless since June 1 and limited to four hits in his past 34 plate appearances. They included his fourth-inning lineout that nearly knocked over Reds shortstop Zack Cosart, and a flyout to the warning track in the sixth inning against Reds starter Mat Latos.
Two innings later against Hoover, with the game tied at 2, Braun hit a first pitch into the right-field seats for his 10th home run and sent the 41-28 Brewers back to 13 games over .500, matching their high-water mark this season.
"I've played this game long enough [to know] you deal with this at some point, inevitably, every year," Braun said of his slump. "It's not fun. It's always frustrating. But you just continue to believe in the process, and eventually things work themselves out."
Braun's blast made a winner of Brewers reliever Will Smith, who had allowed a tying home run to Billy Hamilton in the top half of the eighth. It also rewarded other Brewers for their contributions to Milwaukee's 12th victory in the last 19 games, including Yovani Gallardo's seven innings in his second consecutive stingy start, Scooter Gennett's game-changing, 13-pitch at-bat in the sixth inning, and Rickie Weeks' big hit off the Brewers' bench.
The first seven innings were dominated by the starting pitchers, with Mat Latos coming off the disabled list for the Reds to work six scoreless innings and Gallardo allowing only one run on six hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. Over his past two starts, he's allowed one run in 14 innings with 16 strikeouts.
"I think earlier starts before that, it seemed like I would just get out of my rhythm," Gallardo said. "I was able to make pitches. I fell behind [Brandon] Phillips and left a slider out over the plate [for a first-inning RBI single]. Other than that, my curveball was working pretty good to both sides of the plate. I think that made a big difference."
"He's been great. Really impressive," Braun said. "He's really throwing the ball well, down in the zone, commanding all of his pitches. He's been great, and that's obviously important to us as a team, for our success, for him to be 'that guy.' That's what we expect from him every time out."
Unfortunately for the Brewers, Latos was reinstated from the disabled list and proved just as tough, allowing only one hit through his first five innings of the season. In the sixth, Gennett changed the course of the game by engaging Latos in a 13-pitch at-bat that ended with a double. Braun followed with his deep flyout, and the Brewers remained in a 1-0 deficit, but the result of Gennett's persistence was a call to the Reds' bullpen for the seventh inning.
Latos believed he had Gennett retired along the way, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, when the umpires ruled Gennett checked his swing.
"There was a -- I can't really say very much, it's a touchy subject," Latos said. "From where I was sitting, the curveball that was in the dirt looked like he went and swung on it, but ... he obviously didn't think that he did. There's nothing I can do about it."
Unable to get anything going against Latos, the Brewers scored twice in the seventh against relievers Logan Ondrusek and Manny Parra to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. They did it with small ball, beginning with a Jonathan Lucroy walk and a Carlos Gomez single. The runners advanced on Aramis Ramirez's flyout before Khris Davis' groundout scored Lucroy for a 1-1 tie.
When the Reds summoned Parra to face left-handed-hitting Lyle Overbay, the Brewers countered with Weeks, who grounded a single to left field for the Brewers' first lead in the series. Weeks improved to 25-for-70 (.357) since April 25, 8-for-26 (.308) as a pinch-hitter and 10-for-30 (.300) with runners in scoring position.
But the Reds found a quick and surprising answer against previous indomitable Brewers reliever Smith, who is showing his first signs of wear over the past two weeks. With one out -- thanks to a terrific barehanded play by Ramirez at third -- Smith elevated a fastball inside to speedster Hamilton, who connected for a tying home run to left field.
It marked the first homer off Smith this season and only the fifth extra-base hit. Smith watched a replay of the pitch and said it was right where he wanted it. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke credited Hamilton's "quick-twitch fibers."
"When he raised the bar so high," said Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez of Smith, "people say, 'Hey, what happened?' But he's a human being. It's part of the game."
After Braun gave the Brewers another lead, Rodriguez pitched for the fourth consecutive day and retired three Reds in order for save No. 21.
"Yesterday we fell short coming back late," Rodriguez said. "But today we got it out there. When you give our offense a chance to come back, I like our chances."