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CINNATI -- What Mat Latos did for the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, manager Dusty Baker said, "is what championships are made of."
So, can Latos deliver again?
After pitching four exceptional innings of emergency relief Saturday on three days' rest, Latos will be rested and ready for a decisive Game 5 at Great American Ball Park on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET on TBS. The Reds will be one victory shy of the NL Championship Series for the third straight day -- and, for the first time, facing their own elimination.
"It's another game," said Latos. "It's a team that I'm comfortable with, a team that I've faced before."
Key stat: Received the loss in Game 1, allowing three runs on five hits in five innnings
Key stat: Came on in relief for the first time in his MLB career in Game 1, pitching four innings, giving up a solo homer
At Great American Ball Park
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 4.26 ERA Career: 5 GS, 2-2, 3.44 ERA
2012: 19 GS, 8-3, 3.18 ERA Career: 21 GS, 9-3, 3.05 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 2 GS, 0-2, 5.54 ERA Career: 10 GS, 4-5, 3.54 ERA
2012: 2 GS, 2-0, 0.56 ERA Career: 11 GS, 4-3, 2.19 ERA
Loves to face: Drew Stubbs, 1-for-11, 4 K Hates to face: Jay Bruce, 6-for-13, 4 RBI
Loves to face: Angel Pagan, 3-for-17, 3 K Hates to face: Buster Posey, 4-for-15, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB
Why he'll win: The postseason is nothing new to Cain -- he didn't allow an earned run in 21 1/3 innings in three starts in 2010.
Why he'll win: He hasn't recorded a loss in eight outings and has given up one run or less in his past four appearances.
Pitcher beware: Cain's losses come in pairs. Of his five defeats in the regular season, there were two sets of back-to-back losses.
Pitcher beware: Half of his losses came when pitching on four days' rest, and his worst ERA -- 3.80.
Bottom line: Finish the monumental comeback to make history
Bottom line: Step up again for the club and make it through to the NLCS
He has faced them a lot. Latos, a former San Diego Padre, owns a 2.19 ERA in 11 regular-season starts against the Giants, and he delivered four innings of one-run relief on Saturday in Game 1 of this NLDS for the first hold of his Major League career in his first relief appearance since a 2009 stint in Class A.
The Reds were hoping to save Latos for Game 1 of the NL Championship Series, but losses to the Giants on Tuesday and Wednesday have moved them to the brink. Latos will pitch opposite Giants Game 1 starter Matt Cain.
"I think the biggest thing is I will try to go into it like a normal start, but in the back of your mind you're thinking it's an elimination game," Cain said. "One of us could go home."
The road team has won each of the series' first four games, a streak Latos will try to stop on Thursday.
Everywhere you looked in the Reds' clubhouse Wednesday night, in the moments after their 8-3 loss, Latos' teammates were expressing confidence.
"I think he'll be fine," catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "I'm sure he's excited. You have to have fun with it. You can't put any added pressure on yourself. We're in a position where he can be the hero."
Said outfielder Drew Stubbs: "Hopefully Mat can give us an effort like he did in Game 1, and we can swing the bats like we did earlier in the series."
And Mike Leake, who took the Game 4 loss: "We should still have full confidence. There's no reason for us not to. We still have a game left. ... We just have to come out and kick butt."
Baker could have used Latos on short rest in Game 4 on Wednesday but went instead with Leake, who replaced an injured Johnny Cueto on the active roster and allowed five runs over 4 1/3 innings. Latos has never started a game on shorter than the regular four days of rest.
Yet he was called into duty for Game 1 on short rest, four days after throwing 78 pitches in five innings against the Cardinals in his final start of the regular season. Baker's decision to limit most of his starters in their final regular-season appearance proved prescient when Cueto lasted all of eight pitches against the Giants on Saturday, forcing an early call to reliever Sam LeCure, who bridged the gap to Latos.
Before that moment, Latos had made 105 big league appearances, 105 starts.
"You got to give big props to Latos," Baker said. "Here is a guy sitting back, relaxed, thinking he was going to pitch next week at home, and now all of a sudden -- boom -- this is his first playoff game. It was a great feat by him."
Latos' feat was working four innings, scattering four hits and being burned only by a Buster Posey solo home run while holding the Reds' lead from the third through the sixth innings. He was rewarded with a hold in the Reds' 5-2 win.
The 24-year-old's unexpected outing did not go unnoticed by teammates.
"Mat volunteered," outfielder Jay Bruce said. "He likes that stuff in the sense that I don't think he's very well liked in San Francisco. Don't know why."
This was said tongue in cheek. Latos has famously feuded with the Giants, once while he was with the Padres, signing some baseballs with the inscription, "I hate S.F."
Bruce also lauded Latos' talent.
"He's got some of the best stuff in the game," Bruce said. "His stuff plays regardless of whether it's on short days' rest, whatever it may be. He's young. He's ready. He likes having the ball, and I think that's something that can't be said for everyone. ... That showed us a lot to the whole team, and everyone was watching the game right then, so I was excited for him about that, and I was excited for our team as well."
So, can Latos do it again?
"I believe he can," Bruce said. "He's prepared for it all year."