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Giants 1 win away from swiping series from Reds

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Giants 1 win away from swiping series from Reds

CINCINNATI (AP) With an out-of-character win, the San Francisco Giants are on the verge of an unprecedented comeback.

And everybody in Cincinnati is saying: Uh-oh.

Angel Pagan hit the first leadoff homer in Giants postseason history, and Gregor Blanco and Pablo Sandoval connected later for an 8-3 victory over the Reds on Wednesday that evened their NL division series at 2-all.

After dropping their first two at home, the resourceful Giants have moved one victory away from the NL championship series - unthinkable when they landed in town on Monday. No team has recovered from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series by winning three on the road, according to STATS LLC.

This one can do it with a victory on Thursday at Great American Ball Park.

``Thanks to the win today, there will be a tomorrow,'' Pagan said. ``And we are ready for that.''

Matt Cain, who lost the series opener and has yet to beat the Reds in three tries this season, will start Game 5 against Mat Latos, who has a little personal history against the Giants. He was with San Diego in 2010 when the Giants eliminated San Diego on their way to a World Series title.

That offseason, Latos signed three baseballs with ``I Hate SF!'' as part of a fundraiser for the major league players' alumni association. After Wednesday's game, his wife, Dallas, tweeted: ``2010 Padres are not the 2010 Reds.''

There's plenty of angst to go around town. The Reds haven't won a postseason game at home in 17 years, going 0-3. They also dropped a one-game playoff for the NL wild card to the Mets in 1999.

One thing in their favor - they haven't dropped three straight at home all season.

``I'd like to think that we still have the advantage,'' Reds outfielder Jay Bruce said. ``We're at home. I expect Mat to come up with a big game. I'm looking forward to it.''

So are the Giants, who were barely able to get a hit, let alone a win, while dropping the first two games. The pressure pulled them closer. Hunter Pence gathered them for inspirational speeches before the two games in Cincinnati.

``We feel good,'' NL batting champion Buster Posey said. ``When you're down 0-2 you see what you're made of. We're not done.''

It wasn't all about the offense. San Francisco's overlooked Cy Young winner played a starring role, too.

Tim Lincecum was relegated to the bullpen for the playoff series because of his dreary season - 15 losses, 17 wild pitches. He entered in the fourth inning, pitched out of a threat that kept the Giants up 3-2, and kept going. The right-hander struck out six while allowing just one run in 4 1-3 innings.

``I knew he would play a huge role in this,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ``And I know of other situations where starters have been in the `pen and really done a great job to help their team win. We knew Timmy would play a critical role in the series like he did tonight.''

The Reds were hoping to start ace Johnny Cueto, but had to drop him off the roster a few hours before Wednesday's first pitch because he was still bothered by a strained muscle in his right side. He won't be available if Cincinnati wins Game 5 and reaches the NL championship series.

The way the Giants have started hitting, that's now in doubt.

They broke out against Mike Leake, who replaced Cueto and had a rough time. Leake threw his first career complete game in San Francisco on June 29 and was 3-0 career against the Giants.

Pagan homered to start it off for the Giants. Blanco hit a two-run shot in the second. The Giants had another breakthrough in the fifth, when back-to-back doubles by Joaquin Arias and Pagan ended an 0-for-14 slump with runners in scoring position during the series.

Sandoval's two-run shot in the seventh made it 8-3, matched the Giants' season high for homers and drew loud boos from the crowd of 44,375 - the third-largest at Great American Ball Park. Fans quietly settled into their seats and used their white rally towels as lap warmers against the evening chill.

The Giants normally don't hit many homers - only 103 during the season, fewest in the majors. They're only the seventh team since 1900 to reach the playoffs after finishing last in the majors in homers.

While the offense went to work, Lincecum bailed out the bullpen.

Bochy didn't hesitate to put the guys he wanted on the mound, using four pitchers in the first four innings. Lincecum settled things down, giving up only two hits in his second relief appearance of the series.

He threw 42 strikes out of 55 pitches and even batted twice - just like a starter.

``The last two games, it's been about scratching and leaving it on the field,'' Lincecum said.

NOTES: The Reds honored RHP Homer Bailey on the field before the game for his no-hitter in Pittsburgh on Sept. 28, presenting him and C Ryan Hanigan with framed photo montages. ... LH Barry Zito started and lasted only 2 2-3 innings, his shortest postseason appearance. ... San Francisco has won each of Zito's last 12 starts. ... The Giants hit three homers in a game eight times during the regular season.

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

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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