Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants Slam Into NLCS

BOX SCORE CINCINNATI They are icons now, all of them.Brandon Crawford for his glove. Matt Cain for his ability to match zeroes as long as he could. Sergio Romo for his fearless, 88-mph fastballs with a season hanging on every one.And Buster Posey. For being Buster Posey.Itll be a month before they announce the National League Most Valuable Player Award. The Giants will not bother to count ballots. They already have their answer.Posey stepped into a perfect MVP moment and met it. His grand slam off perfectly-cast heel Mat Latos in the fifth inning struck the facing of the upper deck at Great American Ball Park, and the Giants will to play baseball again together.They barely held on for a 6-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds and clinched a most improbable NL Division Series in which they trailed after losing the first two games at home.Poseys slam was the first by a Giant in the postseason since 1989, when Will Clark read Greg Madduxs lips and timed a fastball into the Wrigley Field bleachers.Crawford had the biggest day of his baseball life, hitting a tiebreaking triple in the fifth and making stops both solid and spectacular to help subdue a Reds club that kept straining the leash.And Romo finally dispatched the Reds, who were down 6-0 after Poseys slam, yet found a way to get the tying run to the plate in each of the last three innings. Romo strutted and yelled after he struck out Scott Rolen with two on base to send the Giants along to the NL Championship Series.The Giants succeeded where 21 other clubs had failed. They became the first NL team in the Division Series era to recover from an 0-2 deficit and advanceThey also became the first team all season to sweep a three-game series at Cincinnati. In fact, the Reds hadnt lost three in a row at home all season. The Giants hadnt done it since April, 1999, at old Riverfront Stadium.Starting pitching reportThe Reds had an opportunity to tag Matt Cain in the first inning, when Zack Cozart chopped an infield single to third base and Joey Votto walked on pitches that missed by a wide margin.But Ryan Ludwick fouled off the one hittable fastball he saw before Cain dusted him off with his slider. Then came Jay Bruce, who was 8-for-15 lifetime against Cain and bedeviled him for a double and home run in Game 1.Nothing Cain had thrown to Bruce seemed to work, so he improvised. After getting ahead, Cain took something off a two-seamer turning it into an 86-mph changeup, essentially and the pitch cut away from the left-handed hitters powerful bat as he struck out to end the inning.Cain had to pitch from the stretch again in the second inning, when third baseman Pablo Sandoval dropped Scott Rolens grounder down the line. But Cain picked up Sandoval by inducing a double-play grounder from Ryan Hanigan.Cain matched Latos until the fifth, when the Giants shook the big, blond right-hander. Cain ran into some trouble, too, as Hanigan got hit by a pitch and Drew Stubbs singled in front of Brandon Phillips two-run double.But Cain kept a critical third run from scoring, as Joey Votto grounded out to end the inning.If Cain was fuzzy in the strike zone at times in the fifth, he started to unravel in the sixth. Ryan Ludwick led off with a no-doubt home run, Bruce drew a walk and Scott Rolen singled to bring the tying run to the plate.Hanigan battled Cain for an eight-pitch at-bat but the right-hander got the call on a 3-2 fastball on the outer fringes, and for reasons known only to Reds manager Dusty Baker, the runners were moving on the 3-2 pitch.Posey managed to avoid a leaning Hanigan and zip a throw to third base, where Pablo Sandoval applied the tag on Bruce to complete a rather monumental double play.Those were the first outs recorded by a Giants starting pitcher in the sixth inning all series.Cain had thrown 96 pitches, and after that taxing battle with Hanigan, Bochy walked out for the baseball.Cain finished one out short of a quality start, giving up three runs on six hits, two walks and a hit batter. It was not his cleanest or finest work, but he matched Latos zero for zero until the Giants could get in the right-handers meaty-thick head.Bullpen reportNo three-run lead is safe. The Giants understand that better than most.The bullpen had 10 outs to get, and they did not come easily. The Reds brought the tying run to the plate in each of the last three innings.George Kontos got the first out, stranding Cains inherited runner by getting Stubbs to ground out to end the sixth.The Reds got the tying run to the plate in the seventh against Jeremy Affeldt after Phillips singled and Joey Votto rapped a hit up the middle. It took Crawfords incredible, diving effort to keep the ball from going into center field and prevent Phillips from taking third base.In one of the tensest at-bats of the game, Affeldt stayed in to face Ludwick. The left-hander allowed just one home run in the regular season (to the Padres Carlos Quentin), and Bochy didnt want to use up all his relievers going batter-to-batter so soon.Ludwick fouled off four pitches in the course of working the count full, but he hit a sharp comebacker that Affeldt gloved and walked to first base to end the inning.Bochy wanted Affeldt to face Bruce to start the eighth, but Gregor Blanco lined a foul ball that hit the left-hander as he stood at the top of the dugout stairs. Affeldt tumbled down the stairs and trainers immediately raced after him.So Bochy had to break the seal on his left-handed anti-venom, using Javier Lopez to retire Bruce on a grounder to start the eighth. After that, the Reds once again found a way to get the tying run to the plate. Santiago Casilla retired just one of three batters he faced, and that one out only came because Crawford made a startling, diving catch of Hanigans line drive.The Giants needed one more incredible defensive play to escape the inning, when Sergio Romo entered and pinch hitter Dioner Navarro blooped a pitch to center field. Angel Pagan raced in and made a sliding catch, punching the air with his fist as he was still rolling on the grass.Your browser does not support iframes. The Reds did not give up there.Romo issued a one-out walk to Cozart and then Votto and Ludwick hit consecutive singles. Cozart scored without a throw to get the Reds within two runs and bring the winning run to the plate in the form of Bruce, who hit 34 home runs in the regular season including 21 in the Reds cozy ballpark.Bruce gave Romo the battle of his life in a 12-pitch at-bat. He fouled off six two-strike pitches all fastballs that brushed the outside edge of the plate. Romo came back with an up-and-in fastball that couldnt have been spotted any better, but he didnt get the call. Undeterred, he came back with a slider that Bruce got under to left field for the second out.A five-pitch strikeout of Rolen brought the Giants running onto the field to embrace Romo the first pitcher other than Brian Wilson to record a clinching out in a postseason series since Robb Nen 10 years ago.That team, with Dusty Baker in the dugout, couldnt hold onto a three-run lead with six outs to get. This one, with Baker in the opposite dugout, did.Your browser does not support iframes. At the plateThe Giants needed time to crack Latos, who took advantage of umpire Tom Hallions ample strike zone and kept working the ladder with high fastballs to induce fly outs with runners on base.Latos got a big out in the first inning, after Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval lined hard singles. Posey took a rip at a high fastball and got under it, lifting it to center field for an out. Latos did the same to retire Hunter Pence.But the Giants knew from past entanglements with Latos that he was a different pitcher once something rattled him. And when the big right-hander didnt get a two-strike call on Gregor Blanco to start the fifth, the steam rose from his cap as if someone opened the top of a hot dog cart.Crawford, who has a taste for high fastballs, followed with the most important hit of his young career. He tripled into the right field corner to break the scoreless tie, and the Giants were able to bring him home on Angel Pagans chopper up the middle. It wouldve been a close play at the plate if Reds shortstop Zack Cozart hadnt dropped the ball while trying to make a quick transfer.Pagan reached on the error, and Latos could not restore order between the lines or between his ears. He walked Scutaro, Sandoval lined another crisp single and Posey stepped into his MVP moment.He took a huge rip at a 2-1 cutter. Latos came back with the same pitch, but this one didnt hit catcher Ryan Hanigans down-and-in target. It stayed over the plate and merged with Poseys liquid swing. Hanigan almost melted in his catching gear as Posey watched the ball clank off the facing of the second deck.It was the first grand slam by a Giant in the postseason since Will Clarks iconic lip reading shot off Greg Maddux in 1989.It was a 434-foot lance to the neck.It was Poseys second home run off Latos in the series, too, and once again the right-hander watched the Giants send him home for the winter. Latos grand slam pitch is the last one hell throw until next season.The Giants did not score again after Poseys slam, although they were a bit unlucky in the eighth as Brandon Belt and Blanco made hard outs with a runner in scoring position.In fieldBochy had one lineup decision to make for Game 5. He was tempted to start Joaquin Arias at shortstop after he doubled twice after coming off the bench a night earlier. But Bochy stayed with Crawford, calling him the clubs best defender and noting that Latos was extra tough on right-handed hitters.Once again, Bochy made a golden move. In addition to his triple, Crawford made two tricky grounders look easy to end fifth- and sixth-inning rallies with runners on base. Then Crawford was flat-out spectacular in the eighth.Also good to note: Crawfords single on a 97-mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman a left-hander, no less.AttendanceThe Reds announced 44,142 paid. Now the good folks of Hamilton County can sit back, watch political ads till their eyes bleed and decide who the next POTUS will be.Up nextThe NLCS begins on Sunday and the Giants await the winner of the other NL Division Series, which the St. Louis Cardinals led 2-1 over the Washington Nationals heading into Game 4 Thursday night. A Giants-Cardinals series would begin at AT&T Park; a Giants-Nationals series would open at Nationals Park.

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