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FRANCISCO -- A two-game deficit would mean anything but a happy Cincinnati-bound flight for the Giants, and it was up to Madison Bumgarner to ensure that didn't happen.
But the Reds got the better of Bumgarner on Sunday to earn a 9-0 win and a 2-0 lead in the National League Division Series, putting the Giants on the brink of elimination and the effectiveness of their once dominant starting pitching in question as they head to Cincinnati for a win-or-go-home Game 3 at 2:30 p.m. PT Tuesday on TBS.
Bumgarner entered Sunday a confident candidate to command the mound and return some momentum in the Giants' favor. The last time Bumgarner had pitched in the postseason, the then 21-year-old rookie tossed eight scoreless innings in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series. The only time he had faced the Reds this season, Bumgarner blanked them with a one-hitter in his first complete game.
And at the start of the night, the young phenom looked the part. The Reds looked to be in for a long night as Bumgarner induced an easy foul popup from Brandon Phillips to start the game before striking out Zack Cozart and Joey Votto.
But after Ryan Ludwick started the second inning by blasting a first-pitch fastball over the center-field fence, it was clear Bumgarner wouldn't be enjoying the same sort of dominance he had the last time he faced the Reds or they last time he pitched in the postseason. Votto, Ludwick, Scott Rolen and Ryan Hanigan all notched hits off Bumgarner in a three-run fourth inning, and Bumgarner's night ended with one out in the fifth after allowing singles to Cozart and Votto.
"First inning he was right on, hitting his spots and using both sides of the plate," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He got some balls up and made a mistake there on the first pitch to Ludwick, but after that he had trouble getting the ball where he wanted, and it happens."
After the Reds tagged Matt Cain for two homers and three runs in five innings during a 5-1 win in Game 1, the Giants could have used a performance akin to the World Series performance that etched Bumgarner into San Francisco lore. Despite perfect first and third innings, Bumgarner allowed seven hits and a walk in 4 1/3 innings pitched.
"You hate to see it," Bochy said. "It's a good-hitting ballclub, and they threw out some good at-bats off him. You give them credit. He had a tough time getting back on track there, and that's why I had to go get him."
Bumgarner had compiled a career-best 16 wins in the regular season, the most by a Giants southpaw since Kirk Rueter won 16 in 1998. A four-start stretch at the end of August and early September briefly derailed what had been an impressive season, posting a 7.28 ERA in those starts. But bullpen sessions tweaking his delivery and mechanics had Bumgarner confident again, which he showed in his last three starts of the season.
He followed that stretch by allowing three earned runs in 11 2/3 innings in his next two starts, but on Sunday Bumgarner looked more like he did in his final start of the season when the Padres scored five runs (four earned) off Bumgarner in four innings.
"Control felt pretty good, and I was throwing the pitches I wanted to throw," Bumgarner said after Sunday's loss, adding that he felt comfortable with his mechanics. "It's just bad luck I guess, I don't know."