CINCINNATI (AP) — Scott Rolen timed his swing perfectly and sent Trevor Hoffman's pitch heading for the red seats in left-center field.
"Imagine my surprise when it went out," Rolen said.
Nothing is really all that surprising when the Brewers try to finish off a game these days, an uncertainty that has one of baseball's greatest closers unsure what comes next.
Rolen hit a tying, pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth off the struggling Hoffman, and Joey Votto singled off the wall to drive in the winning run Tuesday, rallying the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. The NL Central leaders pulled off their 10th win in their final at-bat, one that was perhaps the most satisfying of all.
"Down 4-2 in the last inning against arguably the greatest closer of all-time, and to come back to win?" Votto said. "I think that says a lot. I think the guys always feel like we have a good shot."
Milwaukee lost its eighth in a row — its worst slump since 2006 — because of some big problems with its bullpen. Hoffman came on with a 4-2 lead and failed to retire any of the five batters he faced, walking off the field with a blank expression after Votto's single on his 14th pitch.
The 42-year-old closer has blown half of his 10 save chances. He has a record 596 saves, but his trademark fastball-change combination — so effective for so many years — seems to have lost its bite.
Hoffman has given up 19 earned runs and 21 hits in only 13 innings this season.
"Not getting outs," he said glumly, his shoulder and elbow wrapped in ice. "There's really not a whole lot to analyze about it. Just not getting an out — it's pretty obvious.
"You know, if there was an answer at this point in time, I think we would have found it."
There were no answers for any of the Brewers as they dressed silently and got ready for a 43-minute flight to Pittsburgh, hoping the misery ends there. This one was as crushing as any of the seven that came before it.
"The tough part of this game is playing your heart out, then getting to the ninth and not closing it off," manager Ken Macha said.
Carlos Fisher (1-1) gave up a run in the eighth on a wild pitch, putting Milwaukee in position to break its losing streak. Instead, a bullpen that leads the NL in hits allowed came apart again. And the Reds guaranteed themselves a third straight day atop the NL Central, a place they haven't been so late in a season since 2006.
Paul Janish opened the ninth by lining a single to center off Hoffman. Rolen, getting a day of rest, followed with his second career pinch-hit homer to tie it. Rookie Chris Heisey doubled to left, barely beating the throw, and Brandon Phillips walked. Votto's deep single then handed the Reds their ninth win in 10 games.
Now, Macha has to figure out what to do with his closer.
"There is going to be a whole lot of discussion about a whole lot of things," Macha said. "I sat down with Trevor before. I asked him if there was anything I could do to help him. He said I've done everything I could to help him out."
Milwaukee got two runs in the first inning off Homer Bailey, who was tough once he got going on a damp, cool afternoon. Ryan Braun hit his seventh homer and Casey McGehee's single made it 2-0. Bailey didn't give up another hit until the seventh inning.
McGehee added an RBI single in the eighth, when Milwaukee pushed the lead to 4-2.
Left-handed reliever Manny Parra made his first start of the season, helping the Brewers through the loss of Doug Davis, out with an inflamed membrane around his heart. Parra gave up only one run in four innings. Marco Estrada was called up from Triple-A Nashville before the game and gave up Votto's solo homer in four innings.
NOTES: It was 60 degrees at the first pitch. Light rain fell intermittently. ... The Brewers placed OF Jim Edmonds on the 15-day DL with strained muscles in his left side. Edmonds hadn't played since Saturday, when he got hurt while trying to check his swing. ... With his next appearance, Hoffman will become the 14th pitcher in major league history to make 1,000. ... SS Orlando Cabrera went 0 for 4, ending a 10-game hitting streak that was the longest by a Red this season.