CHICAGO (AP) – Ryan Freel homered on the first pitch of the game and the Cincinnati Reds sent the Chicago Cubs to their eighth straight loss – tying a season high – with an 8-2 romp Wednesday.

Eric Milton pitched seven strong innings and Freel’s single keyed a seven-run fourth as the Reds completed a three-game sweep.

The Cubs (54-60) fell six games under .500 for the first time this season. Chicago also lost eight in a row approaching the All-Star break – it has not dropped nine straight since May 2002.

Freel was 2-for-3, driving in three runs and scoring two before leaving with a strained right quadriceps. He sent the first pitch from Rich Hill (0-2) beyond the left-field bleachers for his third homer of the season and first leadoff shot of his career.

Ken Griffey Jr. added a single and double for the Reds.

Cincinnati broke it open in the fourth in tying a season high for runs in an inning. Freel hit a two-run single and there were three bases-loaded walks.

Milton (6-12) allowed a run on four hits, striking out three and walking one. After Michael Barrett’s solo homer in the second, he retired the next 15 batters.

Kerry Wood pitched a scoreless ninth for the Cubs in his third relief appearance this season. Nomar Garciaparra hit an RBI single in the bottom half.

Hill allowed six runs on four hits and four walks in three-plus innings. He left after walking in two runs with no outs in the fourth.

After allowing leadoff singles to Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns, Hill walked Jason LaRue, Edwin Encarnacion and Milton to give the Reds a 3-1 lead. Michael Wuertz relieved, and the runs and walks continued to mount.

Freel greeted him with a single and Griffey hit an RBI double with one out. With two outs, LaRue drew a bases-loaded walk for an 8-1 lead.

In his last two starts, Hill has allowed 13 runs and 11 hits in 4 1-3 innings. That includes a seven-run, 1 1-3-inning outing against the New York Mets on Friday.

Barrett tied it in the second when he hit his 12th homer.

Notes: Recent Hall of Fame inductee Wade Boggs threw out the first pitch to Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, then impersonated late broadcaster Harry Caray while singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. Boggs wore black-rimmed glasses and gestured like Caray as he sang the tune. … The Reds’ Rich Aurilia went 0-for-5, ending his six-game hitting streak. … Griffey Jr. was 6-for-15 with two homers in the series. … The seven runs tied the Reds’ season high set in the ninth inning May 30 at Houston.

AP-ES-08-10-05 1708EDT

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