CINCINNATI – Jay Bruce raised both index fingers as he rounded first base and took the final steps toward a long-awaited championship. Jubilant Reds teammates streamed toward the plate while fireworks went off overhead.
Fifteen years of futility had just ended with Bruce’s dramatic swing.
Bruce homered on the first pitch from Tim Byrdak leading off the ninth inning Tuesday for a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros, securing an improbable NL Central title for a franchise that has gone through some of the worst times in its history.
Nine straight losing seasons. A 15-year playoff drought. All washed away with one home run and an eye-stinging clubhouse spray.
There’s nothing like it, said Bruce, who got doused with bottles of Korbel champagne and 24-ounce cans of beer in the clubhouse.
The 23-year-old outfielder, part of Cincinnati’s young nucleus, provided a fitting finish to the championship drive. Cincinnati has won 22 games in its last at-bat, second-most in the majors.
When he hit that one up there, there was a big sigh of relief and the party was on, manager Dusty Baker said. I’m as happy as a man can be. This is sweet. This is a special group, special guys and a special feeling.
GIANTS 4, DIAMONDBACKS 2: In San Francisco, Juan Uribe matched a career best with his 23rd home run and first-place San Francisco increased its NL West lead over San Diego to two games.
CUBS 5, PADRES 2: Alfonso Soriano homered twice, including a two-run shot off struggling San Diego ace Mat Latos, and visiting Chicago dropped San Diego 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the NL wild-card race.
The 22-year-old Latos, a former TinCap who fumed after the Cubs scored two unearned runs in the fifth, lost his fourth straight start.
BRAVES 3, MARLINS 2: Eric Hinske hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the seventh inning and host Atlanta improved its wild card chances.
DODGERS 9, ROCKIES 7: Casey Blake homered twice, Rafael Furcal had two triples and visiting Los Angeles put Colorado a step closer to playoff elimination.
NATIONALS 2, PHILLIES 1: Jimmy Rollins went 1 for 3 in his first start in nearly three weeks and Roy Oswalt didn’t allow an earned run in five innings as lost at Washington.
METS 4, BREWERS 3: Ruben Tejada laced a two-run double in the ninth inning off John Axford, rallying New York over visiting Milwaukee.
PIRATES 7, CARDINALS 2: Pittsburgh’s Garrett Jones homered and drove in three and Brian Burres pitched effectively at St. Louis.