CINCINNATI -- Given a chance to open a one-game lead in the NL Central -- something they haven't done all season -- the Chicago Cubs got twisted into knots by a journeyman pitcher and an infielder with a sore head.
Third baseman Scott Rolen returned from a beaning and hit a two-run homer on his first swing Wednesday night, and Justin Lehr pitched his first complete game for a 4-0 victory that stopped the Cincinnati Reds' losing streak at eight games.
Chicago remained in first place in the NL Central for a third straight day, percentage points ahead of St. Louis. The Cardinals lost to the Mets 9-0 earlier in the day.
Still, it would have been nice to open a one-game lead.
"The best part of tonight is that we have a day off tomorrow," manager Lou Piniella said. "We didn't play very well. We had a chance to go into first place by ourselves, and we didn't take advantage of the opportunity."
Two newcomers helped the Reds get the rare win.
Lehr (1-0) limited the Cubs to four hits. The 32-year-old was a reliever for Oakland and Milwaukee in 2004-06, and was making only his second start in the majors. It was his first win since May 18, 2006, with the Brewers, and his first shutout at any level of pro ball.
"There were times I got close, but there's really no rhyme or reason," said Lehr, who dabbed at his eyes after the final out.
Lehr got called up Aug. 1 when fifth starter Micah Owings went on the disabled list. Lehr threw 117 pitches, walked one and struck out four, joining Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo with Reds shutouts this season.
"He's an unlikely fellow to do that, but we'll take it," manager Dusty Baker said. "It's a funny game. You just don't know."
The Reds weren't real sure about Rolen's condition, either. They got him from Toronto in a four-player deal Friday, looking for leadership and a right-handed bat. He went 0 for 6 with Cincinnati before getting hit in the head by a Jason Marquis pitch on Sunday.
Cleared by a CT scan after experiencing headaches and blurred vision, Rolen made his first Reds hit a pivotal one. His homer on the first pitch from Rich Harden (7-7) put the Reds on course for only their second victory in 16 games.
"I'm all right," Rolen said. "Where it actually hit me, I had a knot there and it's still sore to the touch. If I'd have struck out four times, I could have come in [complaining] about not seeing the ball, but now I don't have any excuses."
The unlikely duo gave the Reds a chance to finally celebrate something. Owner Bob Castellini visited the clubhouse after the game, then walked through reporters as he left.
"Everyone cheer up," the owner said. "It's almost like winning the World Series."
After wallowing in fourth place for much of the first half, the Cubs have gone 14-6 since the All-Star break, making their charge to the top. And, they're getting some of their injured players back.
Infielder Aaron Miles was activated off the disabled list -- he'd been sidelined since June by a sore elbow -- and started at shortstop Wednesday. Catcher Geovany Soto is expected to return on Friday after sitting out since May 7 with strained muscles in his left side.
The Reds had never beaten Harden, who was 4-0 in four career starts against Cincinnati. The right-hander had a hand in his first loss.
Harden's first pitch to Rolen was a fastball down the middle and above the belt. Rolen hit it into the seats in center for his first homer since July 26 with Toronto, when he hit No. 8. Harden's throwing error on a sacrifice bunt let in another run later in the inning.
"I didn't have my best stuff today," Harden said. "I was inconsistent. After that, there's not a whole lot to say. It wasn't a pretty game."
- Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said starter Ted Lilly, out with a sore left shoulder, threw without problem on Wednesday. Lilly is expected back this month.
- Reds RHP Jared Burton began a minor league rehab assignment. The reliever has been on the DL since July 26 with a tired right shoulder.
- Owings threw 75 pitches off the mound without problem. He's eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday from tightness in his shoulder.