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CINNATI -- The Reds' situation in the National League Division Series went from being about as good as it gets -- up two games to none and heading home needing just one victory to advance -- to the worst-case scenario, down six runs in Game 5, just 12 outs away from elimination.
Cincinnati made undesirable history with its three-game collapse this week, but if there's one thing the Reds could hang their hats on as they headed home after a 6-4 loss on Thursday, it's the fight they showed until the bitter end.
"It says a lot about their club, and how good they are, and the character that they have," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "This was a hard-fought game, we got up six runs and they kept coming back off a good pitcher. I compliment the Reds on how hard they fought back in that game and we barely hung on."
Until the very last out, the Reds persistently threatened for runs, stringing together one of their most significant comeback attempts in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Entering the inning trailing 6-3, a one-out walk, followed by two singles, scored Zack Cozart and put two runners aboard for Jay Bruce, who represented the winning run. Bruce then fought Giants closer Sergio Romo for 12 pitches, fouling off eight in the process, before eventually flying out to left field.
"To be honest with you, the at-bat shouldn't have lasted that long, in my opinion," Bruce said. "He made his pitches, he didn't give in. It was a long at-bat, but I wouldn't really call it a 'good' one, in my opinion. Good ones end differently."
Scott Rolen was the Reds' last sign of hope, but went down swinging, leaving the two runners aboard and ending the Reds' magical season.
It was a familiar theme throughout the game, and even the series. The Reds stranded 11 runners on Thursday and were 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position in the three losses, leaving a total of 28 men on base.
"I'm proud of them, and proud they fought to the end, which they did," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That at-bat that Jay Bruce had was unbelievable. That was sheer determination. You've got to work a little harder this winter and this is going to take a while for this to heal, but like everything heals, sometimes you just get tired of disappointments."
Cincinnati certainly saw its fair share of disappointments Thursday, as threat after threat was thwarted by the Giants down the stretch.
The mood first turned gloomy at Great American Ball Park when Buster Posey's grand slam capped off a six-run fifth inning, and a Reds' defeat looked imminent.
But the Reds responded with two runs in the bottom half and tacked on another in the sixth on Ryan Ludwick's solo shot to left, making it 6-3.
But presented with further opportunities to score, the Reds could not capitalize.
"With runners in scoring position, we just couldn't get that one big hit," said Ludwick, who had three home runs in the series. "We came home and were whatever with runners in scoring position -- I don't know what the stat is. You can put me at the top of that list. I felt like I had five or six opportunities, and I came up short, except for that last at-bat. That's the game of baseball."
The first missed chance came later in the sixth, when the Reds put two more aboard with nobody out off Giants starter Matt Cain.
Ryan Hanigan worked a full count, fouling off two pitches in the process. But the 44,142 fans went from eagerly elated to heartbroken and deflated as home plate umpire Tom Hallion called a third strike on Hanigan, and Giants catcher Buster Posey fired to third base to catch Bruce stealing for a crucial double play that short-circuited the threat.
"I think that's a play that's fairly common," Bruce said. "Ryan is a guy that's not going to strike out very often at all. He takes good at-bats, he doesn't chase out of the zone very often. It just didn't work out that time, but I thought it was the right play."
Hanigan didn't swing on the pitch, thinking he had just taken ball four and began heading toward first. He gave Hallion a shocked look after hearing the call.
"It was 3 2, and it looked like the pitch was outside," Baker said. "That changed the whole ballgame."
The Reds remained resilient, getting two more singles in the seventh to bring Ludwick back to the plate with two outs, hoping for more magic.
Again, the ballpark began rocking. But Ludwick grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.
It was the same story in the eighth, as the Reds again looked to break through with a two-out rally, putting two men on with two outs. Pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro then blooped a ball into shall center field that had all the makings of an RBI single.
But Giants center fielder Angel Pagan covered significant ground, made a tremendous sliding grab and came up fist-pumping on a catch that halted the Reds' chances yet again.
"In the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, we had the tying run at the plate and just couldn't get that big hit," Baker said. "It was disheartening to have my club go through this."
But the Reds are leaving with their heads held high, and hopes that a bright future is in store for Cincinnati.
"I'm really proud of being a Cincinnati Red," Joey Votto said. "I'm very proud we have an excellent, supportive fan base. We just need to give them some wins, play deep in the playoffs and win a World Series here. And the support will increase ten-fold, I'm sure."