The Cincinnati Reds returned home with three chances to capture their first playoff series victory in 17 years.
All of a sudden, they're down to one opportunity against one of the NL's best pitchers.
The San Francisco Giants look to complete a stunning road rally and advance to the NL championship series behind Matt Cain, who gets a shot at redemption in Thursday's Game 5 after losing the series opener.
The Reds snapped the franchise's seven-game postseason losing streak by beating the Giants ace 5-2 in Game 1, and they seized control of this division series with their 9-0 victory in San Francisco the next night.
But Great American Ball Park, where Cincinnati never lost three in a row while going 50-31 in the regular season, has not provided the setting for a celebration yet. Following a 2-1, 10-inning loss in Game 3 in which a crucial error by sure-handed third baseman Scott Rolen provided the winning margin, the Reds trailed almost throughout an 8-3 loss Wednesday.
"Thanks to the win today, there will be a tomorrow," Giants outfielder Angel Pagan said. "And we are ready for that."
San Francisco took advantage of the absence of the Reds' best pitcher after Cincinnati took Johnny Cueto off the playoff roster. Replacement starter Mike Leake was hit hard, and the Reds would need to make the World Series for their 19-game winner to be eligible to return.
Cueto left Game 1 in the first inning with pulled muscles in his side, but scheduled Game 5 starter Mat Latos came out of the bullpen to help Cincinnati overcome the injury in that contest.
"You wish you had Johnny Cueto, but you don't," manager Dusty Baker said. "Right now, it's Mat's turn, and he's strong. He's on his regular turn, unlike his last time out."
Trying to send the Reds to the NLCS for the first time since 1995, Latos will be on full rest after allowing one run and four hits in four innings and throwing 57 pitches in Game 1.
"It's another game," Latos said. "It's a team that I'm comfortable with - a team that I've faced before. ... I'm just looking at it as another start. I've just got to go out there and pitch my game."
The Reds hope his past success versus San Francisco helps them avoid an unprecedented collapse. No NL team has ever lost a division series after winning the first two games, and no team in the majors has ever taken a 2-0 lead in a five-game series and lost the next three all at home.
"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."
Latos has posted a 2.19 ERA in 11 starts against the Giants. Most of those were in a San Diego uniform, but the right-hander beat San Francisco twice this year, pitching seven shutout innings April 24 in Cincinnati opposite Cain in a 9-2 Reds win.
Including Game 1, Cain is 0-3 with a 5.50 ERA against the Reds this year. He yielded three runs on homers by Bruce and Brandon Phillips while lasting just five innings Saturday, allowing his only earned runs in 26 1-3 career postseason innings.
"I made more mistakes than even showed up," Cain said. "I think I may have been overanxious, going out there, with the first game being at home.
"I will try to think back to other starts and be more calm and relaxed and worried about making good pitches instead of just going out there and maybe firing up there."
Cain may still be anxious about facing Bruce, who is 8 for 15 with four extra-base hits and four walks in their matchups. Ryan Ludwick has homered three times in 24 at_bats against Cain, and he went deep for the second time in this series Wednesday.
San Francisco's bats, though, came alive in Game 4 after totaling four runs and 12 hits in the first three contests. The Giants finished last in the majors with 103 homers in the regular season, but Pagan, Gregor Blanco and Pablo Sandoval all homered Wednesday.
Tim Lincecum turned in 4 1-3 stellar innings out of the bullpen after Barry Zito struggled. With the Giants facing elimination again, the embattled former Cy Young winner said he's ready for more Thursday, less than 24 hours after throwing 55 pitches.
"If they need me," Lincecum said, "yeah."
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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