Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce watches his ball clear the wall for a fourth inning solo home run against the San Francisco Giants during Game 1 of their MLB NLDS playoff baseball series in San Francisco, California October 6, 2012. (Reuters/ROBERT GALBRAITH)
SAN FRANCISCO - Everyone knows that San Francisco’s AT&T Park is one of the most pitcher-friendly fields in the majors.
Everyone knows how difficult it is to go long in that thick, Bay Area air.
Everyone, it seems, but the Cincinnati Reds, who beat the San Francisco Giants 5-2 in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Saturday night.
With the win, Cincinnati did what few have done before – dominate the 2010 World Series Champs with the long ball in their own park.
And it didn’t take long to get things started.
After a lead-off single by Drew Stubb in the third inning, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips launched Matt Cain’s hanging breaking ball over the fence in centre field. The two-run shot marked the first earned runs Cain has ever allowed in his postseason career and put the visiting team up 2-0.
In the very next frame, Cain was tagged again, this time by right fielder Jay Bruce, who extended his team’s lead to 3-0 with a 420-foot solo shot to the right field bleachers.
It wasn’t all Cincinnati going deep, however.
Giants catcher Buster Posey responded in the bottom of the sixth with a home run of his own. His one-run shot to left field, on a first pitch breaking ball from Mat Latos, put San Francisco on the board 3-1.
But the Reds bounced back, and with some versatility.
Switching to small ball in the top of the ninth, Cincinnati hit two consecutive singles to set the table for Phillips, who with a single of his own, drove in an insurance run and picked up his third RBI of the game in the process.
Cain (0-1) allowed three earned runs on five hits through five innings and struck out five batters in the loss.
For Cincinnati, Sam LeCure (1-0) took the win after pitching just 1 and 2/3 innings.
Though the Reds’ 24-year-old star closer, Aroldis Chapman, ran into some trouble in the bottom of the ninth, giving up a run to the relentless Giants, he struck out Posey to end the game.
After throwing only eight pitches in the bottom of the first inning, Cincinnati’s ace and Game 1 starter, Johnny Cueto, had to leave the game with what was described as back spasms.
The 26-year-old struck out Giants outfielder Angel Pagan to start the game, but appeared to tweak his back in the process. Cueto gingerly walked off the field after throwing two pitches to former Blue Jay Marco Scutaro.
In replacement of his injured starter, Baker called on relief pitcher Sam LeCure who retired the next two batters to end the inning. Mat Latos, the Reds’ scheduled Game 3 starter, came in to start the bottom of the third, and gave up four hits and one run through four innings.
The good news for the Reds – Cueto, who won a career-high 19 games this season and came into the NLDS sporting a 2.78 ERA, is listed as day-to-day and is expected to pitch Tuesday night in Cincinnati.
And what of the defence?
With the postseason well underway, both teams demonstrated how badly they want that coveted World Series trophy by putting on a spectacular show defensively.
Setting the tone for the game early was Giants first baseman Brandon Belt who, with one out in the first inning, dove into the baseline seats to nab a foul ball off rookie Zack Kozart’s bat. Though he flipped over the rail, Belt remarkably maintained firm control of the ball in his glove.
On the Reds’ side it was all Ryan Ludwick who made not one, but two dramatic catches in left field to keep the Giants off the bases and Cincinnati’s lead alive.
His first diving catch came in the bottom of the sixth off a drive from Belt’s bat for the second out of the inning. In the very next frame, Ludwick robbed Scutaro of a base hit when he gloved the second baseman’s hard hit line drive in mid-air.
If Game 1 was any indication of how this series will play out defensively, these teams should dominate the highlight reels over the next few days.
Home Sweet Home
Dusty Baker is back in San Francisco in the postseason. The only difference now is that he’s managing the opposing team.
Baker, who spent the 1993-2002 seasons as the Giants manager, nearly won a World Series Championship in his last year with the club, losing in Game 7 to the Los Angeles Angels a decade ago.
Back in the Bay area in his fourth season as the Reds’ skipper, it’s clear that Baker still has fans on the west coast. The 63-year-old, thinner since hospitalized with high blood pressure and a mini stroke last month, was greeted with a resounding ovation when introduced at the beginning of Game 1 at AT&T Park.
A native of Riverside, Calif., Baker was crowned National League Manager of the Year three times over his tenure with the Giants.