The San Francisco Giants defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 8-3, at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati yesterday, evening their National League division series at two games apiece and forcing a fifth and decisive game to be played today. Yes!
Semi-reliable sources indicate a large truckload of fresh lumber was discovered directly in front of the visitors' clubhouse entrance at the GABP yesterday morning, along with a hand-written note. "SORRY FOR THE DELAY," it read; "HOPE YOU CAN STILL USE IT."
Well, the first crack of bat on ball a few hours later was a home run, sailing high and deep to right-center field, hit by Giants leadoff man Angel Pagan. Six more extra-base hits, including two more homers, followed over the next few innings as the Giants rediscovered hitting as a man dying of thirst rediscovers water. Joaquin Arias, inserted into the "nine" spot in what may have been the most inspired double-switch ever, led off two different innings with doubles, and five runs scored in those innings. Gregor Blanco gave the Giants the lead they'd never lose with a two-run shot in the second; Pablo Sandoval finished it off in the seventh with a mammoth shot to deepest right that threatened to reach the Ohio River. Pagan was on base a total of four times, including two walks, and scored twice; Sandoval had three of the Giants' eleven hits.
And yet the player of the game, the Man of the Hour, the Comeback Kid, and perhaps the key to the remainder of the Giants' postseason, is none other than Tim Lincecum, who entered the game with two on and two out in the fourth as part of that great double-switch. He stilled the roiling waters of an attempted Cincinnati comeback, and over the next four-plus innings quieted things down with six strikeouts, allowing two hits and one run while his teammates scored five. No reliever ever deserved a win more, and with this singular effort "The Freak" wiped clean all memory of his most difficult regular season. Should the Giants prevail today, Tim Lincecum will assuredly be part of the starting rotation in the NLCS.
Whether or not Barry Zito will be is yet to be known. No one in the Giants clubhouse questioned his worthiness to start the game, but performance is proof, and over three long, awkward innings Zito walked four men, all of them with two out, walked in a run, and left a mess for George Kontos when he finally departed with two out in the third. The ten-day layoff may have affected Zito, and he got zero help from umpire Dan Iassogna's traveling strike zone, but had Kontos not retired Drew Stubbs on a harmless popup to end the third, things might have been a whole lot worse.
Bruce Bochy managed the fourth inning as if it were the eighth. Clinging to a one-run lead, knowing he had an ace in the hole (or the bullpen, that is), "Boch" brought in Jose Mijares to relieve Kontos with two on, one out, and dangerous Joey Votto at the plate. Given one simple job to do, Mijares did it by fanning Votto on a 2-2 fastball, at which time Lincecum and Arias came into the game and the Giants took it over for good. The Reds did not score in the fourth, and in the top of the fifth the Giants did, and inning by inning the crowd grew quieter. Cincinnati, oddly enough, has never won a postseason game on their new home field, and by the time Santiago Casilla retired Ryan Ludwick on a popup to end the game, memories of that dominant weekend in San Francisco seemed dim indeed. The Giants' dugout was boiling over with exuberance, high-fives, and hugs, while the Reds collectively had the look of a wealthy man just discovering his pocket has been picked.
The Giants and Reds thus 'go to the mat(t)' today-- Latos and Cain, that is. Dusty Baker all along had decided to hold Latos back for a possible fifth game, starting Mike Leake yesterday (and whether he regrets that or not is irrelevant to the issue at hand.) Latos is by no means invincible; the Giants beat him soundly in 2010 to clinch the NL West division pennant, and they are on a roll right now. No National League team ever has come back from a 0-2 deficit to win a division series; regardless of the law of averages, we believe no team ever has been so ready to complete such a comeback. Just a couple of hours from now, at one o'clock PM EDT, we'll find out. GO GIANTS!