What a relief: Reds persevere for Game 1 win

Bullpen steps up after Cueto's injury; Phillips provides big lift

October 6th, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Reds this season have already persevered when closer Ryan Madson was lost for the year with an elbow injury in Spring Training. When a knee injury knocked best player Joey Votto out for six weeks in July, they rallied and, yes, even prospered.

So what did Cincinnati do when ace Johnny Cueto was overtaken by back spasms two batters into his Game 1 start of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on Saturday night?

They picked each other up and found a way through. In stunning fashion, the Reds prevented the Giants from capitalizing on their misfortune and got home runs from Brandon Phillips -- who had three hits and three RBIs in a big night -- and Jay Bruce. Then they held on to steal a 5-2 win in front of 43,492 vibrant fans and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

"We're resilient. Tonight kind of epitomized our team," Bruce said.

The victory over Giants ace Matt Cain snapped a seven-game postseason losing streak for the Reds. Coincidentally, it came on the 17th anniversary to the day when they won their previous postseason game over the Dodgers in a Game 3 sweep of the 1995 NLDS.

"It's been that long?" Phillips replied. "It feels good, shows the fans that we will be playing more games in Cincinnati. All you can do is win for the city and for your teammates. And we all have the same mission: to get the ring. And I want to keep on doing that until I get the ring."

Since 1995, when Division Series play began, the NLDS Game 1 winner has advanced to the League Championship Series 48 times (71 percent). Cincinnati already has home-field advantage, and the win puts big pressure on San Francisco to even the series Sunday.

But the 2012 NLDS could not have had a more ominous start for the Reds. To their dismay, Cueto grimaced in pain as he threw an 0-1 changeup for a strike to Marco Scutaro, only his eighth pitch of the game.

A 19-game winner in the regular season, Cueto signaled for the trainer and manager Dusty Baker, who had little choice but to pull his best pitcher from the game. Baker summoned Sam LeCure, and hoped for the best.

"You don't like to see a guy hurting, and you say, 'Oh no, what can happen again, kind of,'" Baker said. "But then you think about what happened with Joey Votto, and this is a resilient team, and they can pick each other up and go on."

Votto missed six weeks after needing left knee surgery in mid-July to repair torn cartilage. The injury, ironically, happened at AT&T Park when Votto slid into third base on June 30.

Cueto's outing was the new shortest postseason start in club history, breaking the record by Joey Jay, who lasted two-thirds of an inning while getting beat up in Game 5 of the 1961 World Series.

"When Johnny went down, I was like, 'Gosh, oh, no, we're done. Why? Why?'" Phillips said. "And we were out there talking, and we were like, 'Let's win this for Johnny.'"

And that's exactly what they did.

LeCure took over in emergency relief, worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings and was declared the winner. Then the Reds colored outside the lines and got creative, tapping probable Game 3 starter Mat Latos to take over in the third inning.

As Cueto exited, Latos did not hesitate in volunteering his services. Keep in mind that he was working on three days' rest since his final regular-season start and had thrown a 20-pitch bullpen session earlier on Saturday. Oh, and he's never pitched in relief as a Major Leaguer with 105 career starts.

"We're a family," Latos said. "Joey went down earlier in the year, and we got closer and closer. [Now] Johnny went down and as a pitching staff, we've got to get closer. We've got to get together, and we've got to pitch like we've been pitching all year."

Latos came up big with four innings of work. While allowing four hits, the only run he gave up came in the sixth inning, when Buster Posey hit a leadoff homer on the first pitch.

Familiarity was on Latos' side as he was 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in two starts vs. the Giants this season and had a 2.19 ERA over 11 career starts -- mostly as a member of the Padres.

"I'm comfortable in this ballpark, and I've pitched here for 2 1/2 years," said Latos, who was 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA in the regular season. "It wasn't any surprise, other than me pitching. I know what to expect from this ballpark. I know what to expect from this lineup that I was facing. I've had great success against them."

In a key emotional lift with one out in the third inning, Phillips slugged Cain's 1-2 curveball for a two-run homer to the left-field seats for a 2-0 lead. It ended Cain's 23 1/3-innings streak of not allowing an earned run.

"This guy is unbelievable," Baker said. "I've never had a player that can hit all over the lineup like him. That was a big, big lift to give us a home run right there."

Leading off the fourth inning, Bruce smacked a 1-0 pitch into the seats in right-center field for a three-run lead. Cain had allowed two homers in a game at San Francisco only once in the regular season, and it came against the Reds on June 29.

Cincinnati's September offensive swoon didn't carry into the postseason. The Reds batted only .225 as a team in the season's final month.

"It's great to beat a pitcher like Matt Cain and that Giants team," Bruce said. "I think it's important to get one over here. We'll get out there [tonight] and try to do the same thing."

Following Posey's homer in the sixth, Latos escaped after Gregor Blanco reached on a two-out bunt single near the mound. Sean Marshall followed with a perfect eighth inning. Jonathan Broxton worked a scoreless eighth but had to dodge danger following a one-out single and two-out walk. It ended when Blanco was called out on strikes on a 95-mph full-count fastball.

"They did a great job, and we didn't do enough today," said Blanco.

The Reds opened some breathing room with three hits and two runs in the ninth against Santiago Casilla. Phillips capped his night with a two-out RBI single. Later, a passed ball by Posey scored Xavier Paul from third base.

A save situation was taken from Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth, but it became a tense inning nonetheless. Chapman gave up a leadoff single and walked two batters, including Xavier Nady on four pitches. A two-out wild pitch to Posey scored one run before Chapman struck him out with a 100-mph fastball to end the game.

"I feel really proud about my team," Cueto said through an interpreter. "I feel proud about the pitchers. They all came in and did their job, not just them, the hitters came in and they backed me up tonight."