How about eight pitches and out?
That was how the Giants and Reds began this evenly matched NL Division Series, as Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto quite literally bowed out with back spasms eight pitches into the first inning.
But a seemingly huge advantage tilted while the moon steadily rose over China Basin.
Cuetos injury only opened the portcullis for Mat Latos, the Goliath of the Giants Old Testament, and they couldnt cast enough smooth stones in four innings against him. The Reds high-powered bullpen proved more mighty than the Philistines in the final three innings, too, as the Giants lost 5-2 Saturday night.
Matt Cain surrendered three runs in five innings, all on baseballs lost into the neighbors yard. Brandon Phillips hit a two-run shot in the third inning and Jay Bruce proved impossible to solve again while hitting a solo shot that took a Blue Angels-inspired flight path into the stands above the right field arcade in the fourth.
The Giants managed just Buster Poseys home run off Latos in the sixth, which did a bit more than Gangnam Style to wake up the sellout crowd.
Now for the sobriety hour: The Giants are likely to face Cueto again in this series, most likely in Game 3 when Latos was penciled in to start. And Latos, who wouldve been limited to just one appearance in this series, now will be rested and ready to tangle with the Giants again, if need be.
Crank up the incline level on that treadmill. The Giants didnt lose Game 1 in any of their three postseason series on the way to their World Series title in 2010. They had won eight consecutive postseason series openers beginning in 2000.
In fact, the last time the Giants won a postseason series after dropping the first game, it was 1921 against the Yankees so long ago that the World Series was a best-of-9 affair.
As for the Reds, they won their first postseason game in 17 years. They had lost seven consecutive playoff games before Saturday.
Starting pitching report
In 32 starts at AT&T Park over the past two years, Matt Cain had given up multiple home runs twice both this season, both against the Reds.
The shots he surrendered came to familiar adversaries, too. Brandon Phillips put the Reds on the board with a two-run home run in the third inning when Cains 1-2 curveball parachuted over the plate. Phillips also hit a two-strike, two-run home run off Cain in April at Great American Ball Park.
In terms of expert-level opponents, though, Phillips is like Glass Joe compared to Jay Bruce. The left-handed hitter entered 6 for 13 with two doubles, four walks and just one strikeout against Cain. He was no easier to solve Saturday, hitting a double in the second inning and connecting for a solo shot that streaked into the right field arcade to lead off the fourth.
Bruce hit a 1-0 changeup. It was the fourth straight change that Cain threw him over a span of two at-bats.
It was the first time Cain allowed multiple homers at AT&T Park since June 29, when Reds pitcher Mike Leake and shortstop Zack Cozart took him deep. Prior to that, Cain hadnt allowed two homers in a home start since his final outing of the 2010 season.
Cain averted a disaster when he jammed Ryan Ludwick for a double-play grounder to end the third. Then he became more efficient while retiring six of his next seven batters an important adjustment, since it allowed Giants manager Bruce Bochy to lift his ace for pinch hitter Aubrey Huff after five innings and 75 pitches.
With a moderate workload, Cain absolutely would be in play to start a potential Game 4 on short rest if the Giants face elimination.
George Kontos rewarded Bochys faith for putting him on the postseason roster. The 27-year-old rookie tossed two perfect innings to stabilize the game and give the Giants a chance to rally. (He was better than his alma mater, Northwestern, at holding the opposition, too.)
Guillermo Mota and Jeremy Affeldt held serve as well. And even though Santiago Casilla struck out the side in the ninth, he also allowed two runs on a caustic mix that included three singles, a wild pitch and a passed ball.
At the plate
The Giants received an apparently huge break eight pitches into the game when Cueto flung his arm like a rag doll after throwing a strike to Marco Scutaro. He came off the mound without trying a warmup pitch and was diagnosed with back spasms.
Its possible the spasm was triggered when leadoff man Angel Pagan was granted a late timeout and Cueto stopped midway through his delivery.
Right-hander Sam LeCure entered and got a pair of ground outs, then survived a jam in the second inning when Brandon Belt drew a two-out walk and took third on Gregor Blancos sharp double. As Latos warmed up on the bullpen mound, LeCure intentionally walked No.8 hitter Brandon Crawford, then barely escaped when Cain lined out to right field.
That break might turn into a distinct disadvantage for the Giants in this series. It brought Latos into the game a card-carrying member of the GNC (Giants Nemesis Club). He was the owner of a 1.67 ERA in six career starts at AT&T Park, in addition to announcer Dave Flemmings broken sunroof when he chucked a ball over the left field bleachers in batting practice two years ago.
Latos was penciled in to start Game 3, oddly limiting him to one appearance in the series. Now the Giants face the prospect of seeing him twice, after he threw a tidy 57 pitches (39 strikes) over four innings.
Latos scattered four hits and just one run, on Poseys solo shot to start the sixth inning.
Reds GM Walt Jocketty told TBS that the club didnt expect to replace Cueto on the NLDS roster, meaning he could return to pitch Game 3 and Latos would loom in a potential Game 4 on three days of rest or Game 5 on normal rest.
Latos got the Reds to the seventh inning, which allowed manager Dusty Baker to trot out his frontline relievers. The NLs best bullpen did not flinch, as Sean Marshall worked a perfect seventh and Jonathan Broxton survived some hard contact in the eighth.
Cozart speared Pablo Sandovals lineout, and after Posey singled to right field, Pence hit a deep out to the warning track in right-center. Brandon Belt showed nice poise in his first postseason game while forcing his second walk of the night, and then Gregor Blanco struck out looking on a borderline 3-2 pitch that was good enough for plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.
Even after Casilla allowed two runs, Giants got the tying run to the plate in the ninth against Aroldis Chapman when Joaquin Arias hit a pinch single, Xavier Nady drew a pinch walk and Scutaro walked to load the bases. But Sandoval popped out, and after a wild pitch scored a run, Posey, with the crowd on its feet, struck out swinging on a 100-mph fastball to end it.
The Giants were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base.
Belt never looked so much like a baby giraffe or earned such a loud ovation than when he flipped over the rail down the left field line while catching Cozarts foul fly in the first inning. Somehow Belt hung onto the baseball, even though no paying customers were willing to help break his fall as he tumbled into a luxury box.
Three innings later, Belt found himself on the other end in another sense. After Hunter Pence reached on an errant throw from third baseman Scott Rolen, Belt hit a hard line drive that first baseman Joey Votto snared to start an unassisted double play.
Phillips made two incredibly smart and athletic plays. First, he made a diving stop in foul ground while backing up first base on Gregor Blancos bunt single in the sixth, and his throw nearly caught Blanco off base.
Then on the basepaths in the eighth, Phillips stopped dead in his tracks and fell backwards (the Bernie Lean, perhaps?) while avoiding second baseman Marco Scutaros tag to prevent the Giants from turning a double play.
The Giants announced 43,492 paid, and none of them booed Alex Smith when he bounced the ceremonial first pitch. Bet he cant do that in front of 69,000 at Candlestick and get away with it.
The Giants and Reds reconvene at AT&T Park for Game 2 of their NL Division Series on Sunday night. Left-hander Madison Bumgarner (16-11, 3.37) takes the mound against right-hander Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74). First pitch is scheduled for 6:37 p.m. PDT.