CINCINNATI -- Ryan Freel couldn't have picked a better setting for the first curtain call of his career.
With a packed ballpark, it sure was loud.
Freel hit a pair of solo homers Saturday, including a tiebreaking shot in the eighth inning that sent the Cincinnati Reds to an 8-7 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers in front of a rare capacity crowd at Great American Ball Park.
The 41,915 fans were still on their feet long after Freel's one-out homer off Geremi Gonzalez (2-2) put the surging Reds in line for another win. At first, Freel didn't know what to do. Then, he emerged from the dugout and waved.
"That's the first one I ever had," said Freel, who has a pair of two-homer games. "It was neat, a real good experience."
Scott Hatteberg also homered and drove in three runs for the Reds, who are 7-2 since the All-Star break.
A bullpen fortified by two trades has been one of the Reds' strengths during the surge, saving starters who had an off-night. It took over after Joe Mays failed to make it through the fourth inning, and prevailed over a Brewers team that has been done in by its late-game pitching breakdowns.
Bill Hall's two-run homer off Cincinnati's David Weathers tied it at seven in the sixth inning, the only bad moment for Reds relievers. Todd Coffey (6-4) got the last two outs in the eighth, and Eddie Guardado -- acquired in one of those trades -- pitched the ninth to remain perfect in five save chances with Cincinnati.
"Things are going our way right now, and hopefully they'll continue to go our way into October," Guardado said. "I've been lucky. There's still a long way to go. We're going to hit some bumps, but I don't want to make the bumps too big."
Milwaukee hit the wall.
The Brewers have lost nine of their last 11, falling a season-low six games under .500 at 46-52. They were only 2½ games out of first place in the NL Central before the slump, which has bumped them well back into a pack of wild-card contenders led by Cincinnati.
"Freel's the guy that got us," manager Ned Yost said.
The Reds had only their fourth sellout in 51 home games this season. The other three times they played in front of a full house, they lost.
Freel made this one turn out different. He led off the first inning with a homer off Dave Bush, and then hit the last of the five homers overall in the game.
"It's a lot more exciting when you get a bunch of fans out there hooting and hollering," said Freel, who also had a run-scoring single. "To have a sellout crowd and put on the show we did, that means a lot."
Joe Mays, who hadn't pitched in 16 days, gave up five runs in only 3 2/3 innings, including a three-run homer by Damian Miller. He looked away as he handed manager Jerry Narron the ball in the fourth inning, avoiding eye contact.
"I know it's not an ideal situation for him," Narron said. "He hadn't pitched in 16 days. But he's the fifth starter, and that's what you have to do -- perform in less-than-ideal circumstances."
Bush lasted only three innings in another rough night at Great American. Two of his shortest starts this season have come at the homer-friendly ballpark. Bush was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fourth, having thrown 68 pitches.
"We came back and scored, but I just couldn't keep them off the scoreboard," Bush said.
That left it up to what were statistically the NL's two worst bullpens, although one of them has gotten much better lately. A pair of trades brought the Reds their current closer and relievers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski, calming the troubles.
Milwaukee's bullpen is last in the league, and not getting much better. Struggling Derrick Turnbow was pulled out of the closer's role after he helped the Reds rally for a 6-5 win on Friday night. Right-hander Dan Kolb will close games for now.
Yost plans to use Kolb as his primary closer "until Derrick gets back on track. I don't know how long that will be -- a week or a couple of days." ... Bush gave up seven runs in only four innings of a 15-5 loss at Great American on May 22. ... Mays has a 9.45 earned run average in his four starts for Cincinnati. ... C David Ross will play for Double-A Chattanooga on Monday to test his strained abdominal muscles. He's eligible to be reinstated from the DL. ... Freel was hit on the side by a pitch in the fourth inning, with the ball coming to rest in his vest. Freel fetched the ball as he jogged to first. ... 2B Brandon Phillips made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch in the outfield.Ryan Freel couldn't have picked a better setting for the first curtain call of his career.