Reds cool off Cubs. Bruce nails three

CINCINNATI—Jay Bruce homered in three consecutive at-bats Friday night, matching his career high by driving in five runs, and Cincinnati beat the Chicago Cubs 7-1 to keep its two-week playoff surge going full speed.The Reds got knocked out of first place in the NL Central when the St. Louis Cardinals came to town and swept a series Aug. 9-11. They’ve pulled themselves together quickly, going 10-3 since then. They’ve led the division for the last 13 days, sparking thoughts of their first playoff appearance since 1995.The way things are going, why not? Johnny Cueto (12-4) got his first win since serving a seven-game suspension for kicking a couple of Cardinals during a brawl in their series. The right-hander gave up a run and six hits in eight innings, striking out eight without walking a batter.Bruce’s first three-homer game since Little League left him with 16 this season. He’s the 26th Reds player to hit three in a game — no one has more. Cincinnati’s Drew Stubbs also hit three against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 4.It was the Cubs first loss since manager Lou Piniella retired on Sunday and was replaced by Mike Quade. The Cubs were coming off a three-game sweep in Washington.The Reds are 11-3 against the Cubs this season, their best mark against Chicago since they went 12-5 in 2002. Thousands of blue-shirted Cubs fans were sprinkled among the crowd of 36,219, but spent most of the night listening to the home fans scream “BRUUUCE!” The Reds lead the NL in batting, hits and runs, but had to make do without leadoff hitter Brandon Phillips, sidelined by a sore right hand. Phillips was hit by a pitch Wednesday and is expected back in a day or two. No problem at all. Bruce took his place at the top of the order — the first time he batted leadoff in two years — and hit a solo homer for a 2-0 lead in the third off Tom Gorzelanny (7-8). He also homered on the first pitch from the left-hander in his next at-bat, a three-run shot in the fifth.Chris Valaika, who made his big league debut on Tuesday, followed Bruce’s homer with his first in the majors. Valaika started at second base in Phillips’ place.Gorzelanny was finished after five innings. Bruce kept going.He hit the first pitch from Scott Maine in the seventh, rounded the bases and got a curtain call.