Reds will analyze fifth-inning missteps all winter
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CINNATI -- Reds pitchers and fielders worked 1,499 meaningful innings in 2012, most of them excellent. Among National League clubs, only the Nationals had a better staff ERA during the regular season. Only the Braves had a better fielding percentage.
Which is to say, the Reds were very good at throwing and catching the baseball. Then, in the fifth inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series, when it mattered most, they faltered.
The Reds are going home.
The Giants' six-run outburst, sparked by the bottom of their batting order against a suddenly vulnerable Mat Latos, extended by a costly Zack Cozart error and punctuated by Buster Posey's crushing grand slam, was enough to beat the Reds, 6-4, at Great American Ball Park on Thursday.
The Reds are the first NL team in the Wild Card era to win the first two games of a division series and then lose the next three. They will be ruing their fifth-inning mistakes all winter.
"This game is 100 percent on me," said Latos, the Game 1 hero who was saddled with the Game 5 loss. "I let down my teammates, and that's what bugs me the most right now."
But Latos was not the only Red to blame for their season-ending loss.
In fact, he was looking like a savior through the first four innings, locked in a pitchers' duel with San Francisco's Game 1 starter, Matt Cain.
The teams were still in a scoreless tie when Gregor Blanco led off the fifth inning with a single and Latos made his first costly mistake. After starting the Giants' eight-hole hitter, Brandon Crawford, with two fastballs low and away, barely out of plate umpire Tom Hallion's strike zone, Latos left the third pitch, another fastball, up -- and right down the middle of the plate. Crawford hit it for a triple and a 1-0 lead.
Latos reclaimed control by retiring Cain on a comebacker. Then, with the Reds infielders playing in, on the edge of the grass, Angel Pagan hit a chopper to shortstop. Cozart charged, scooped, and might have had a play at the plate had he not bobbled the baseball for an error. Pagan scored to make it 2-0.
"I got it in the glove and just couldn't get it out," Cozart said. "Obviously, when he's going on contact, you can't bobble anything. Pagan is running to first and he's quick too. After I bobbled it, I knew I didn't have a chance with either one."
Latos could not overcome that mistake. He walked Marco Scutaro on four pitches, the first a pitchout and the next three on the edges of the strike zone. Pablo Sandoval loaded the bases by punching an opposite-field single to left.
With the count at 2-and-2, Latos threw a cutter down the middle, and Posey didn't miss it.
"I was able to get a good pitch in the zone and got the barrel on it," Posey said, "and good things happened."
"We were just waiting for him to do it," Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said. "We knew it was going to happen sometime. As soon as he got a hold of it, everybody knew. We were ecstatic."
The Reds had the opposite feeling, though they came back with two runs in their half of the fifth inning and had at least the tying run at the plate in each of the final four innings, including the ninth, when Jay Bruce and Scott Rolen each got to bat as the winning run.
Each time, Reds bats came up empty.
"To go down 6-0 in the middle of the game like that, with [Cain] on the hill, and to battle back to where we got?" Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick said. "I think that shows what this team is made of."
Posey's slam to the second deck in left field was the third grand slam during a winner-take-all postseason game. The others were also on the road -- Troy O'Leary for the Red Sox in Cleveland in the 1999 American League Division Series, and Johnny Damon for the Red Sox against the Yankees in the 2004 AL Championship Series.
Latos had never surrendered a grand slam in the Major Leagues before Posey took him deep.
"I let a couple of things get to me that shouldn't have," he said. "I made a mistake to Posey and he hit a grand slam. The only thing I can really say is I let down everybody."