Reds starter Sonny Gray was superb, giving up only one run and two hits over five innings, but because he was coming off the injured list due to back spasms, he left after five innings and 80 pitches, turning a 2-1 lead over to Tejay Antone in the sixth.
The Brewers scored two runs off Antone in the seventh and that was it.
Two batters into the bottom of the first and the Reds were up 2-0, thanks to an errant peg by third baseman Eric Sogard.
Aristides Aquino, batting leadoff, grounded to third and Sogard threw it into the Reds dugout. Nick Castellanos then unloaded his 14th home run for 2-0 lead.
The Reds had chances to add on in the second and fourth, but failed.
Another Brewers error and Curt Casali’s double put runners on third and second with two outs, but Aquino grounded out. Mike Moustaksas led off the fourth with a double and a fly ball moved him to third. Nick Senzel struck out and Kyle Farmer flied to left.
Gray retired the first six Brewers before Sogard opened the third with a double. He moved to third on a ground ball and Gray issued a two-out walk. Then he struck out Christian Yelich.
Gray retired the next six but Tyrone Taylor cleared the center field wall with two outs in the fifth, cutting Cincinnati’s lead to 2-1.
Gray gave up one run, two hits, walked one and struck out eight before he had to leave. The one run came on the two-out home run by Taylor in the fifth inning.
“I felt great and was very happy to be out there,” said Gray. “Personally I feel very good moving forward. I wish we could have come out on top, but this isn’t going to be easy. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
Antone replaced Gray and pitched a perfect sixth with two strikeouts.
Moustakas ripped his second straight double with two outs in the sixth and Tyler Stephenson was hit by a pitch. Nick Senzel hit into a fielder’s choice and the Reds stranded two more.
The Brewers erupted against Antone in the seventh for a pair of runs to take a 3-2 lead.
On a 0-and-2 pitch, Daniel Vogelbach poked an opposition field single to left and Jedd Gyorko doubled to left center. The tying run scored on Orlando Arcia’s sacrifice fly the lead run scored on Sogard’s double to left.
Both doubles in that inning came off Antone’s fastball and he second-guessed himself on the pitches.
“Wrong pitches in those situations,” said Antone. "I wanted to go to fastballs and blow it by them. But I missed, pretty badly. Missed execution of true location. I should lose on my pitch and right now that (fastball) isn’t my best pitch.
“It’s a learning experience and it is unfortunate that it had to come to a loss,” he added. “It is better to have a learning experience at low cost. This was a higher-stakes loss.”
Down 3-2 isn’t where the Reds wanted to be because the back end of the Brewers bullpen is granite hard in Devin Williams and Josh Hader.
The Brewers replaced the left-handed Anderson with right hander Williams, one of the best relief pitchers in baseball this season.
So Reds manager David Bell began a parade of left handed pinch-hitters — three in a row. Jesse Winker led it off with a walk and Michael Lorenzen ran for him.
Tucker Barnhart struck out and Lorenzen took second when the ball eluded catcher Jacob Nottingham. Williams then struck out Brian Goodwin and Castellanos grounded out to end the seventh.
The Reds, at this juncture, stranded six and were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
Williams lived up to his reputation in the eighth by striking out Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Moustakas, displaying a change-up that rivals that owned by Reds pitcher Luis Castillo.
And that set it up for Hader, one of baseball’s best closers early in the season, but struggling lately. Hader made quick work of it, a 1-2-3 inning with strikeouts of rookies Stephenson and Jose Garcia.
Five of the last six Reds struck out.
“Wirh the back end of their bullpen. . .those guys are very, very good,” said Gray. “Once they took the lead in the seventh it was going to be an uphill battle and that’s how the game played out.”
The series is tied at a game apiece and there is a Game Three on Wednesday, a mammoth game for both teams. The Reds are sending Trevor Bauer to the mound on three days of rest.