CINCINNATI -- It was widely assumed when the Giants arrived here that they'd make a quick U-turn back to San Francisco.
Instead, they're poised to execute an entirely different kind of turnaround.
After losing the first two games of their National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds, the Giants continued their recovery Wednesday with a dominant 8-3 victory that featured eight extra-base hits and superb pitching from Tim Lincecum -- both surprising elements in the wake of recent events.
The decision evened the series at two games apiece and forced Thursday's climactic Game 5, which holds historic potential. Should the Giants prevail, they'd become the first NL team to rally from a 2-0 deficit to win a Division Series. The first 21 clubs that fell into this hole never emerged. Four teams have achieved the feat in the ALDS: the 1995 Mariners over the Yankees, 1999 Red Sox over the Indians, 2001 Yankees over the A's and 2003 Red Sox over the A's. Overall, 38 of 42 teams leading a Division Series 2-0 ultimately won it.
Also, if the Giants win Game 5, it would mark the second time that the road team won each game of a Division Series. The 2010 Texas Rangers squeaked past Tampa Bay in this manner.
Twice, teams have surged back from a 2-0 deficit to force a Game 5 but lose. They were the aforementioned 2010 Rays and the 2011 D-backs.
The Giants clearly relished their burgeoning comeback.
"'We will see you tomorrow' is kind of our message," right fielder Hunter Pence said.
For the second straight day, Pence gathered teammates around him and motivated them with a brief pregame talk.
"That's just [part of] getting ready for the game," Pence said. After a pause, he added, "I'm pretty sure we plan on doing it again tomorrow."
Right-handers Mat Latos of the Reds and Matt Cain of the Giants will oppose each other. Latos has thrived against the Giants, compiling a 2.19 ERA in 11 regular-season starts against them before yielding one run in four innings in a Game 1 relief outing.
"I think we have a good one going for us, too," catcher Buster Posey said, referring to Cain. "So it should be a good matchup."
Asked what he and his teammates have in store for Thursday, third baseman Pablo Sandoval said, "Keep fighting." Sounding half-serious, Sandoval alluded to superstition and added, "Every guy has to wear the same clothes tomorrow."
Don't forget the hitting shoes.
San Francisco, which entered the game batting .126 (12-for-95) in the series, nearly matched its three-game hit total by collecting 11. That output included home runs from Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco and Sandoval, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Pagan's homer opened the game.
"I think that allowed us all to take a deep breath," Posey said.
That, along with Blanco's two-run homer in the second inning, helped offset a subpar performance by Barry Zito, who surrendered two runs in 2 2/3 innings. Zito struggled mightily in a 30-pitch first inning, forcing in a run by walking three consecutive Reds after Joey Votto's two-out single.
"My timing was off," Zito said. "I wasn't able to get in that groove where I was pumping strikes. I was just missing off the plate pretty much the whole time."
Everything changed with the entrance of Lincecum, who was removed from the postseason rotation. Displaying dazzling command -- he threw 42 strikes in 55 pitches -- Lincecum worked 4 1/3 innings and allowed one run and two hits to earn the decision. He walked none and struck out six, looking every bit as dynamic as he did while winning two Cy Young Awards.
Asked if he surprised himself, Lincecum replied, "I wouldn't say 'surprised.' You kind of go out there with that expectation of doing well, and when things go well, you think this is the way it should be."
Lincecum established himself immediately by striking out Ryan Ludwick to strand two runners in the fourth inning and preserve the Giants' 3-2 edge.
"That was the difference in the game right there," Zito said. "I think we fed off the momentum after that."
The Giants pulled away with a pair of runs in the fifth and three more in the seventh. Joaquin Arias, who entered the game with Lincecum as part of a double-switch, doubled to open the fifth. He came home on Pagan's double, which ended San Francisco's series-long 0-for-14 skid with runners in scoring position. Marco Scutaro's sacrifice bunt advanced Pagan to third base and set up Sandoval's sacrifice fly off Sam LeCure, who relieved Leake.
San Francisco jumped on Reds reliever Jose Arredondo in the seventh. Arias doubled, moved to third on Pagan's fly to deep center and scored on Scutaro's double. Sandoval then belted Arredondo's 2-1 pitch into the right-field bullpen, an estimated 422 feet from home plate.
That left the Reds to ponder the Giants' dramatic reversal.
"They've had their backs against the wall for two games now. Now it's our turn," Ludwick said. "We won two at their place, they've won two here, and it's turned out to be a good series. We're going into Game 5. It's all or nothing."