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Giants beat Reds 6-4, move on to NLCS

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Giants beat Reds 6-4, move on to NLCS

CINCINNATI (AP) The entire season was a comeback for Buster Posey, so he didn't think anything of it when San Francisco needed one of the biggest yet to play for a pennant.

He led them to one of Giant proportions.

The National League batting champion hit the third grand slam in Giants postseason history on Thursday, sending San Francisco back to the championship series with a 6-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

They will play Game 1 on Sunday, either in Washington against the Nationals or in San Francisco against the wild card St. Louis Cardinals. They planned to stick around town until the Nationals-Cardinals series, tied 2-all, is decided on Friday.

Matter which one?

``We could go up against anybody at any time,'' shortstop Brandon Crawford said. ``Being down 2-0 and coming back and winning three at their place, it's an unbelievable feeling.''

The Giants became the first NL team to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the division series, which began in 1995. Major League Baseball's changed playoff format this season allowed them to become the first to take a best-of-five by winning the last three on the road.

San Francisco won the World Series in 2010 without trailing in any of its postseason series. The Giants took four of five from Texas for their sixth title and their first since they moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958.

They've really had to scramble this season to get another shot at it.

Their bullpen took a huge hit when closer Brian Wilson blew out his elbow, and that was just the start. All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera got a 50-game suspension in August after a positive testosterone test, taking a .346 hitter out of their lineup. The Giants have decided not to bring him back, even though he's eligible to return for the NL championship series.

Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum pitched so poorly - 15 losses - that he got relegated to the bullpen for the division series.

And don't forget that Posey was coming off a broken leg that wiped out most of his 2011 season, making a great comeback of his own.

``Unreal,'' said Sergio Romo, who fanned Scott Rolen with two runners aboard to end it. ``That guy's definitely the MVP of our team. We believe he's the MVP of the league. We wouldn't be here without him, that's for dang sure. He's the one that's been the face of the team all season long. What a great story with all he's been through last year.''

Posey's second career grand slam, off Mat Latos, put the Giants up 6-0 in the fifth and sparked a joyous scrum in the San Francisco dugout. The ball smacked off the front of the upper deck in left field, just above Latos' name on the video board.

For the first time in the series, the Giants could exhale.

``I don't think anybody gave up,'' Posey said.

Will Clark, in the 1989 NLCS, and Chuck Hiller, in the 1962 World Series, hit the other Giants slams in the postseason.

Matt Cain and the bullpen held on, with more help from Posey. The All-Star catcher threw out Jay Bruce at third base to snuff out a sixth-inning rally that cut it to 6-3. The Giants had a pair of diving catches that preserved the lead in the eighth.

There was more drama in the ninth. Ryan Ludwick singled home a run before Romo got Rolen swinging to end it.

The Giants raised their arms, hugged and huddled by the side of the mound, bouncing in unison.

``It was a spectacular moment,'' outfielder Hunter Pence said.

In Cincinnati, the home-field meltdown had a sickeningly familiar feeling. The Reds haven't won a home playoff game in 17 years. After taking the first two on the West Coast, all they needed was one more at home, where they hadn't dropped three straight all season.

``You get tired of the disappointments, but then you get over it,'' manager Dusty Baker said. ``It hurts big-time.''

Once Posey connected, the Reds were the ones facing a steep comeback. They've never overcome a six-run deficit in the playoffs, according to STATS LLC.

Couldn't do it this time, either.

``Buster Posey's swing was a series-changer,'' said Reds star Joey Votto, standing on second base when the game ended. ``That made it very difficult to come back. You know they're going to throw the kitchen sink at us.''

The Reds won't forget the first inning of the series, when everything changed. Ace Johnny Cueto pulled muscles in his right side and had to leave the game. Latos pulled them through that opening game, pitching in relief on short rest for a 5-2 win.

He couldn't get them another one, or end that 17-year streak of futility.

NOTES: Posey's other career grand slam came on July 7, 2010, at Milwaukee. ... The Reds are 3-3 in winner-take-all playoff games, including 1-2 in best-of-five series and 2-1 in best-of-seven series. .. Teams that lose the first two games in a best-of-five series are 8-58 all-time. ... Cain gave up six hits and three runs in 6 2-3 innings, the longest appearance by a Giants starter during the series.

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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Can Gio Gonzalez lift Nats out of losing streak in series opener vs. Giants?

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USA TODAY Sports

Can Gio Gonzalez lift Nats out of losing streak in series opener vs. Giants?

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Giants right-hander Chris Stratton will seek to duplicate two impressive efforts when he takes the mound for the opener of a three-game series against the Washington Nationals on Monday night at 10:15 p.m. ET.

The series is the first in San Francisco since Giants reliever Hunter Strickland plunked Nationals star Bryce Harper with a pitch last May, triggering a brawl at the mound that resulted in the ejection of both players.

The Giants got the worst of the altercation, with slugging backup Michael Morse suffering a career-ending concussion in a collision with teammate Jeff Samardzija near the mound.

Stratton wasn't with the Giants at the time, but he contributed one of the best-pitched games of his young career when the clubs met again in Washington in August.

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Making just his third career start, the 27-year-old shut out the Nationals on five hits over 6 2/3 innings in a 4-2 win. He struck out 10.

It's the only time he has faced Washington.

Stratton (1-1, 2.22) has won just four times since, and came close to a fifth when he limited Arizona to one run in seven innings in his last start on Wednesday. He did not, however, get a decision in the 4-3 win, during which he recorded eight strikeouts.

The Giants will be opening a 10-game homestand following a 10-game trip on which they went just 4-6. Statton started two of the four wins.

Stratton wasn't the only Giants starter who pitched well on the trip. The club is coming off a series win against the Los Angeles Angels in which both Samardzija and Johnny Cueto took shutouts late into wins.

Strickland saved Sunday's 4-2 win for Cueto, and afterward was asked about his thoughts of seeing Harper again.

"Win a series," is all he would say.

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In the Nationals, the Giants will be seeing a team coming off a high-profile series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, one that included a meeting on Sunday Night Baseball.

Washington lost two of three in the rematch of 2017 division winners, scoring a total of just eight runs on 21 hits in the three games, which ended with the Nationals stranding two in the top of the ninth of a 4-3 loss on Sunday.

Harper went 2-for-10 in the series, which the Nationals played without injured regulars Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Adam Eaton. They remain out.

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 2.49) will oppose Stratton.

The veteran has made 12 career starts against the Giants, going 5-4 with a 3.06 ERA.

He restored order to the Nationals-Giants series in San Francisco last season the day after the brawl, pitching 6 1/3 innings in a 6-3 win. It improved his record at AT&T Park to 2-3 with a 3.95 ERA in seven starts.

Gonzalez threw 97 pitches in beating the New York Mets 5-2 in his last start, allowing two runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings on Tuesday.

That pitch total wasn't even five times the number Giants first baseman Brandon Belt saw in one historic at-bat Sunday against the Angels' Jaime Barria in the first inning.

Belt fouled off 16 pitches and flied out on the 21st pitch of the at-bat, the most pitches in a Major League Baseball at-bat since 1988.

Afterward, Belt apologized.

"When I'm in the field, I hate it when a batter keeps fouling pitches off," he insisted. "I'm like, 'Dude, just put it in play. It's not that hard. Let's go.' So, I basically had to apologize to everybody after that."

RELATED: HOW NATS DROPPED FINAL GAME VS. DODGERS

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Bullpen falters as Dodgers rally from 3 runs down to top Nationals

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USA TODAY

Bullpen falters as Dodgers rally from 3 runs down to top Nationals

LOS ANGELES  -- Although Cody Bellinger's fierce line drive drove in the tying run, it hit the center field wall so quickly that the throw back to the infield beat him to second base.

No problem: Bellinger adroitly avoided the tag with a swim move he learned from watching Mike Trout on television, and the Dodgers kept charging toward the latest win in their comeback surge.

Bellinger followed Yasmani Grandal's two-run double with an RBI double in the sixth, and Corey Seager drove in Austin Barnes with the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of Los Angeles' sixth win in seven games, 4-3 over the Washington Nationals on Sunday night.

With smart plays by Bellinger, Barnes and almost everybody else, the Dodgers (10-10) got back to .500 after a rough start for the defending NL champions. They were largely dominated by Jeremy Hellickson until they erased a three-run deficit in the sixth with three big hits from their patchwork lineup.

"There were signs of that old ballclub when we were coming from behind," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "That was good to see."

Los Angeles went ahead shortly after Barnes was hit by a pitch from Trevor Gott (0-1). Barnes wisely advanced to third on Chris Taylor's single and scored on Seager's fly.

"You've got to make something happen in that situation," Barnes said of his dash to third. "We're trying to get runs on the board late in the game. It was worth a shot. Be aggressive and play our kind of baseball, and eventually it'll pay off for us."

Alex Wood pitched six innings of six-hit ball for the Dodgers, and Josh Fields (1-0) survived a rocky seventh inning.

Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth for his first save since April 10 and his third of the season -- but not without drama. The Dodgers' vaunted closer began the ninth by yielding two singles, but then struck out Andrew Stevenson and Trea Turner before ending it on Howie Kendrick's fly to the warning track.

Michael Taylor homered, doubled, singled and walked for the Nationals, who have lost seven of 11.

Hellickson retired 14 straight Dodgers before doubles by Chris Taylor and Grandal, with a walk by Seager sandwiched between them. Bellinger followed with his go-ahead line drive against Sammy Solis.

"The one that Taylor got was probably just a tad up," Hellickson said. "(The pitch to) Grandal was down. Probably the only at-bat I'd like to have back is that one to Seager."

Michael Taylor put his first homer of the season into the home bullpen beyond left field in the fourth. He then doubled, advanced on Wood's pickoff throw into center field and scored on Moises Sierra's mid-length fly in the sixth for a 3-0 lead.

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