Thursday, October 11, 2012
CINCINNATI — With an out-of-character win, the San Francisco Giants are on the verge of an unprecedented comeback.
And everybody in Cincinnati is saying: Uh-oh.
Angel Pagan hit the first leadoff homer in Giants postseason history, and Gregor Blanco and Pablo Sandoval connected later for an 8-3 victory over the Reds on Wednesday that evened their NL division series at 2-all.
After dropping their first two at home, the resourceful Giants have moved one victory away from the NL championship series — unthinkable when they landed in town on Monday. No team has recovered from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series by winning three on the road, according to STATS LLC.
This one can do it with a victory today at Great American Ball Park.
“Thanks to the win today, there will be a tomorrow,” Pagan said. “And we are ready for that.”
Matt Cain, who lost the series opener and has yet to beat the Reds in three tries this season, will start Game 5 against Mat Latos, who has a little personal history against the Giants. He was with San Diego in 2010 when the Giants eliminated San Diego on their way to a World Series title.
That offseason, Latos signed three baseballs with “I Hate SF!” as part of a fundraiser for the major league players’ alumni association. After Wednesday’s game, his wife, Dallas, tweeted: “2010 Padres are not the 2010 Reds.”
There’s plenty of angst to go around town. The Reds haven’t won a postseason game at home in 17 years, going 0-3. They also dropped a one-game playoff for the NL wild card to the Mets in 1999.
One thing in their favor — they haven’t dropped three straight at home all season.
“I’d like to think that we still have the advantage,” Reds outfielder Jay Bruce said. “We’re at home. I expect Mat to come up with a big game. I’m looking forward to it.”
So are the Giants, who were barely able to get a hit, let alone a win, while dropping the first two games. The pressure pulled them closer. Hunter Pence gathered them for inspirational speeches before the two games in Cincinnati.
San Francisco’s overlooked Cy Young winner played a starring role, too.
Tim Lincecum was relegated to the bullpen for the playoff series because of his dreary season — 15 losses, 17 wild pitches.
He entered in the fourth inning and struck out six while allowing just one run in 4 1-3 innings.
“I knew he would play a huge role in this,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “And I know of other situations where starters have been in the ‘pen and really done a great job to help their team win. We knew Timmy would play a critical role in the series like he did tonight.”
The Reds were hoping to start ace Johnny Cueto, but had to drop him off the roster a few hours before Wednesday’s first pitch because he was still bothered by a strained muscle in his right side. He won’t be available if Cincinnati wins Game 5 and reaches the NL championship series.
The way the Giants have started hitting, that’s now in doubt.
They broke out against Mike Leake, who replaced Cueto and had a rough time. Leake threw his first career complete game in San Francisco on June 29 and was 3-0 career against the Giants.
Pagan homered to start it off for the Giants. Blanco hit a two-run shot in the second. The Giants had another breakthrough in the fifth, when back-to-back doubles by Joaquin Arias and Pagan ended an 0-for-14 slump with runners in scoring position during the series.
Sandoval’s two-run shot in the seventh made it 8-3, matched the Giants’ season high for homers and drew loud boos from the crowd of 44,375 — the third-largest at Great American Ball Park. Fans quietly settled into their seats and used their white rally towels as lap warmers against the evening chill.
The Giants normally don’t hit many homers — only 103 during the season, fewest in the majors. They’re only the seventh team since 1900 to reach the playoffs after finishing last in the majors in homers.
While the offense went to work, Lincecum bailed out the bullpen.
Bochy didn’t hesitate to put the guys he wanted on the mound, using four pitchers in the first four innings. Lincecum settled things down, giving up only two hits in his second relief appearance of the series.
He threw 42 strikes out of 55 pitches and even batted twice — just like a starter.
“The last two games, it’s been about scratching and leaving it on the field,” Lincecum said.