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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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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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USA TODAY Sports

Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

With a win on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals come into the All-Star break at 48-48. 

That's not great! It's certainly an underperformance given all the expectations, but the season hasn't been without some stellar individual performances . 

Take, for starters, Max Scherzer. Scherzer's on pace to have an even better year than his 2017 Cy Young-winning effort, which is mind-boggling. 

An even-more-refined command is what's made him better this season, as his walk rate is down below seven percent again after creeping up to 7.1 last year. It hasn't affected his strikeout rate, either, which has stayed steady at 34 percent. If the season ended today, it'd be the 4th straight year where he set a career-best in that department. 

Of all starting pitchers, he ranks second in WHIP, and K/BB percent. He has the third-lowest average against (.178) and third-best strikeout percentage (34.5). He's got a top-10 ERA and FIP as well. He's been the best pitcher in baseball this season, and will probably be in the conversation for N.L. MVP as well. 

If only the Nats could just go from Scherzer to Doolittle. The closer stopped walking people, too, and already has 22 saves after ending last year with 24. Had he not been put on the D.L. with a toe injury about a week before the All-Star game, he more than likely would have set his career high in saves before the break. 

He's currently on pace to post the second-best year of his career when it comes to strikeouts, too. He's getting Ks 37.1 percent of the time, which would be the highest since he posted a 37.7 in 2014. Same goes for his K/9. He also has a top-10 ERA and FIP. He's been one of the few relief pitchers that have been consistently reliable through the first half, and the Nats will need his toe to get real healthy real quick. 

And lastly there's Bryce Harper, who you've surely heard is not having an All-Star caliber season. His batting average is hovering around .200, he's striking out more than he has in four years, and he's getting eaten alive by the shift. He's also on pace to have one of his best power-hitting seasons ever and finish with close to 40 home runs, so even his bad years still find a way to be impressive. 

Harper also benefits from being one of the faces of baseball playing in front of his home fans. He's one of the most popular players in the league, and All-Star games find a way to get those people in. An All-Star game in D.C. without him would be objectively less enjoyable, so it was in everyone's interest to have him there. Stars just get the calls sometimes. 

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