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Brewers' three-homer start keys win

Brewers' three-homer start keys win

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CINCINNATI -- Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy had already clubbed home runs by the time No. 3 hitter Ryan Braun stepped into the batter's box for the first time on Sunday afternoon. The Brewers rookie, who said he had been "swinging the bat horrible" in the first two games of the series, did not want to be the one to stop the streak.

"That's a lot of pressure on me when I get up there," Braun said, only half-joking. "It's certainly in the back of my mind."

Braun followed with a homer of his own, and the Brewers became the first team in Major League history ever to hit back-to-back-to-back home runs to begin the top of the first inning. That quick strike sent them on the way to a 10-5 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park and back into sole possession of first place in the National League Central.

Weeks and Braun homered twice in the game and Johnny Estrada also went deep for the Brewers, who hit six home runs in the game to set a record for a Reds opponent at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. The Brewers lead the Majors with 201 home runs this season and are 15 away from tying the franchise record set by the 1982 club. Those Brewers, dubbed Harvey's Wallbangers after manager Harvey Kuenn, also happened to be Milwaukee's last entry to the postseason.

"It would be real nice to accomplish both of those feats," said Weeks, who hit a go-ahead triple in the ninth inning Saturday night and then began Sunday with his fifth career leadoff home run.

The team is on that track. Sunday's win was Milwaukee's seventh in its last nine games, and was a positive start to a week-long road trip that continues with three games in Pittsburgh beginning Monday. The Cubs lost there on Sunday afternoon, giving the Brewers a one-game lead in the NL Central with 20 games to play.

"When we're playing good, we're a tough [team] to beat," Hardy said. "We're playing with some confidence lately. I think that last homestand [the Brewers were 5-1 against the Pirates and Reds] built some confidence, and we were able to carry it through this series." Sunday's offensive outburst benefited right-hander Ben Sheets (12-4), who took the team lead in wins despite allowing five runs in six innings. Sheets surrendered only two runs and four hits through the first five innings, but served up an Edwin Encarnacion three-run home run in the sixth that cut Milwaukee's lead to 8-5.

Sheets' lifetime record improved to 73-73, the first time he's been at .500 since he was 14-14 in May 2002. In six innings, he was charged with five runs on six hits and three walks with six strikeouts.

"It was a good day to give up five runs," Sheets said.

It was his third start off the disabled list. He missed about six weeks with a finger injury.

"I felt good enough," said Sheets. "The results are what we need. ... I got a little tired there at the end. I missed a month and a half, and I'm not going to be what I was right before it. But I'm working back."

The early lead helped. It came courtesy of Weeks, Hardy and Braun, who hit home runs before Reds left-hander Phil Dumatrait (0-4) threw his 10th pitch of the ballgame.

The Brewers became the first team in big league history to lead off the top of the first inning with three consecutive home runs, but two other teams -- the 1987 Padres and the 2003 Braves -- have done it in the bottom of the first inning. Just last week, Triple-A Durham went back-to-back-to-back to begin the bottom of the first inning of an International League playoff game against Toledo.

"We've never had trouble generating power," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "Generating and manufacturing runs? At times, over the course of the year, like most teams do, we've run into our spots where we have had trouble. But we have never had problems hitting homers to the point that everybody was complaining that we're scoring too many runs via the homer.

"It's been a great year for a bunch of different stuff, and that's one of them. I think our power is great."

Said Braun: "That was really cool. I don't think anyone has ever been a part of something like that before. I know I never have."

Braun's first-inning homer was his 29th this season, breaking the rookie franchise record set last season by Prince Fielder. Braun went deep again in the second inning, a two-run shot off reliever Tom Shearn.

Weeks also hit a pair of homers, including the fifth leadoff home run of his career. He walked and scored in the second inning, then homered off Kirk Saarloos in the fourth. After striking out in his first five at-bats in the series, Weeks reached safely in six straight plate appearances before striking out in the sixth.

Estrada then delivered in the eighth, a two-run home run to right field that snatched away whatever momentum the Reds had built during their comeback. Insurance runs have been hard to come by for the Brewers this season.

"I think we've been doing a better job of that lately," Braun said. "I know we went through a little stretch where we were scoring early and then not scoring the rest of the game. Today we were able to continue to add on."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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