Sunday, October 7, 2012

The San Francisco Giants face the Cincinnati Reds in Game Two of their National League division series tonight at AT&T Park. Game time is slated for 6:30 PM local time (9:30 EDT).

The Giants trail the Reds, 1-0, in the series after losing last night's opener, 5-2. Matt Cain allowed the first postseason earned runs of his career and took the loss. Reds' second baseman Brandon Phillips belted a two-run homer off Cain in the third, and Jay Bruce added a monster shot in the fourth that nearly hit water. And despite several opportunities, the Giants' offense was limited to Buster Posey's sixth-inning solo homer and a too-little too-late run -scoring flurry in the bottom of the ninth.

Any thoughts of a stirring pitchers' duel between Cain and Cincinnati's 19-game-winning ace, Johnny Cueto, were dashed when the Reds' starter was forced from the field in the first inning with back spasms. The Giants quickly jumped on his replacement, Sam LeCure, when Gregor Blanco's second-inning double set up second and third with two out. Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker ordered LeCure to intentionally walk Brandon Crawford, however, and Cain hit a line drive right at Bruce to end the threat. In the third, Baker brought in our old friend, Mat Latos, whose success against the Giants is well-known. He rolled through four innings, allowing only Posey's shot, and set up the Reds' excellent bullpen for the final three. The Giants managed a rally in the eighth, which ended on a called third strike to Blanco, and in the ninth Joaquin Arias' leadoff pinch single sent closer Aroldis Chapman and his 100-MPH heat into fits of wildness, Two walks and two wild pitches brought in a run, but Chapman, regaining his form, fanned Posey, representing the tying run, to end it.

Pitching, speed, and defense is what the Reds are all about, and last night a series of excellent defensive plays-- by Ryan Ludwick, Drew Stubbs, Joey Votto, and Zach Covart-- helped scatter the Giants' offense into small pieces rather than the one big inning they needed. They drew six walks in addition to their seven hits, but left eleven men on base, and that ninth-inning mini-rally would've been a lot more meaningful but for a brutal, 28-pitch, two-run top of the ninth by Santiago Casilla that had left them four runs back instead of two.

Madison Bumgarner takes the hill for tonight's must-win second game. The importance of the first game is magnified in these short series, but we Giants fans know well how it feels to win the first one and tank the rest, as we saw in 2000 and 2003. However, to lose tonight would all but concede the series; no team has yet to win three straight in the division round after starting 0-2. But you can bet we'll be back tomorrow, reminding you all there's always a first time, if the unthinkable should happen tonight.

Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers made short work of the Giants' cross-Bay counterparts, the Oakland A's, with a tidy 5-1 decision yesterday afternoon... All four division series are on display today, as the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles square off at Camden Yards about two hours east of here, and the St Louis Cardinals host the Washington Nationals... The Texas Rangers must still be wondering what hit 'em. A month ago, they were the best team in baseball, cruising toward a third straight AL West pennant, and odds-on favorites to reach the World Series for the third consecutive year. Now, in the space of two days, they've lost their division and are out of the running... That was an unseemly and petulant outburst by the Atlanta fans the other night, and likely had more to do with the team's surprisingly sloppy play than the bad call. The worst thing about the call, really, was that the wrong umpire made it. We've seen worse, that's for sure.... For examples of good sportsmanship and lots of just plain fun, nothing beats small-college football Saturdays in October. Yesterday we had the pleasure of seeing Liberty University rally from a 21-3 deficit to overcome rival Gardner-Webb, 42-35, on a splendid autumn afternoon in the mountains of our beloved Old Dominion.    

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