MILWAUKEE — The Brewers need wins any way they can get them, even if it means scratching and clawing to hold on against a last-place team that lost its seventh consecutive game.
Domingo Santana hit an early three-run homer and Milwaukee kept pace in the playoff race by beating the Cincinnati Reds 7-6 on Tuesday night.
The surprising Brewers have five games left and need help to reach the post-season. They remained 1 1/2 games behind Colorado for the second NL wild card after the Rockies blanked Miami 6-0.
Milwaukee (83-74) moved within five games of the first-place Cubs in the NL Central when Chicago lost 8-7 at St. Louis. The Brewers need to win out and have the Cubs lose their last five to force a tiebreaker for the division title.
"You look at the way we won tonight," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "It may not be pretty but it was a win. We have five games left and we want to win them all. There's no tomorrow. There's no yesterday. There's just today."
With starter Zach Davies fighting an illness and lasting just four innings, Josh Hader (2-3) earned the win by striking out six and allowing two runs over 2 2/3 innings of relief.
"They've been a tough matchup for Zach this year," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "They kept putting good at-bats on throughout the game. You felt like it was going to be a tough game and our guys did enough."
Joey Votto singled with one out in the ninth off Brewers closer Corey Knebel, and pinch-runner Philip Ervin stole second. Knebel recovered to earn his 38th save by striking out Scooter Gennett and getting Eugenio Suarez to fly out.
Santana connected off rookie Deck McGuire (0-1) in the first. Vogt and Orlando Arcia hit consecutive doubles to make it 4-0.
Scott Schebler pulled the Reds to 4-2 with a two-run homer off Davies in the second, but a throwing error by Gennett at second base allowed two runs to score for the Brewers with two outs in the third.
Cincinnati chipped away at the 6-2 deficit, scoring a run on a sacrifice fly by Votto in the fifth and adding two more in the seventh on a solo homer by Zack Cozart and an RBI single by Suarez.
Vogt hit his third double of the game and scored on a sacrifice fly by Hernan Perez in the seventh to put the Brewers up 7-5.
The Reds got that run back in the eighth when pinch-hitter Jesse Winker homered off Anthony Swarzak, but Cincinnati couldn't capitalize on an opportunity in the ninth.
"This is fun," Vogt said. "I think there's only a handful of teams playing meaningful games right now. We're one of them. That's all that matters. We're going to keep doing that. We're going to keep fighting every day."
After pitching 5 2/3 scoreless innings over four relief appearances to begin his big league career, McGuire struggled in his first major league start. He lasted just three innings and allowed four earned runs on six hits.
"He was much more erratic from a command perspective," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He worked under the ball a lot. The arm came late and there were a lot of balls elevated or running off the plate."
Reds: RHP Drew Storen had Tommy John surgery in Cincinnati. He is expected to miss the entire 2018 season.
Brewers: C Manny Pina was out of the lineup for a fourth straight game after injuring his left thumb on a play at the plate Thursday against the Cubs. It is uncertain if Pina will be able to return before the end of the regular season.
Reds: RHP Homer Bailey (5-9, 6.96 ERA) will start for the fourth time this season against the Brewers on Wednesday. He has a 7.07 ERA in his previous three outings vs. Milwaukee but allowed just three runs over six innings in a 5-4 win on Sept. 4.
Brewers: RHP Brandon Woodruff (2-2. 3.76) is slated to make his eighth career start and first against the Reds. He received a no-decision last Friday after allowing four runs over five innings against the Cubs.
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