(Reuters) - The San Francisco Giants blasted three home runs and overcame a shaky start from Barry Zito to beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-3 on Wednesday and set up a one-game showdown for a place in the National League Championship Series.
After losing the opening two games of the division series at home, the Giants fought back with two wins on the road to set up a decisive fifth game on Thursday in Cincinnati.
”It’s probably hard for them to believe that we were up 2-0 (in the series),“ Reds manager Dusty Baker told reporters. ”So they reversed on us what we did to them ... and we have a big game, the rubber match, tomorrow.
“If we win tomorrow, it doesn’t matter how many games you were up but they’re a quality team and we knew it was going to be a fight when we got here.”
Gregor Blanco and Pablo Sandoval each crushed two-run homers while Angel Pagan added a solo shot to stun the capacity crowd that had been expecting to celebrate the Reds’ first trip to the NLCS since 1995.
Zito allowed four hits, four walks and two runs before Tim Lincecum came to the rescue for the Giants, registering the win after allowing just one run and two hits in 4-1/3 innings of relief.
”I‘m proud of how the guys have fought and last night was a tough game, could have gone either way and your backs are against the wall, but they have done a great job of bouncing back and getting to tomorrow’s game, which, you know, the only way that happens is win the first two,“ said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. ”These guys have found a way to do that.
“We’re excited about being in this position when you come in here 0-2, have to play in their ballpark.”
Reds starter Mike Leake, who replaced injured 19-game winner Johnny Cueto on the playoffs roster on Wednesday, received a rude welcome to the post-season with Pagan, the first batter he faced, hitting him over the right field wall.
Zito also got off to a rocky start, issuing three consecutive walks in the first inning, including one to Todd Frazier that brought in Joey Votto, who had earlier reached base on a two-out single.
Leake was in more trouble in the second, Blanco hitting his two-run homer into the right field seats to put the Giants back on top 3-1.
The Reds flashed their home run power in the bottom of the third, Ryan Ludwick slamming his second of the post-season and three batters later, Bochy replaced the former Cy Young award winner.
Left out of the Giants starting rotation during their 2010 World Series run, Zito’s first playoff appearance in six years lasted just 2 2/3 innings.
San Francisco extended their lead to 5-2 in the fifth on an RBI double from Pagan and a Sandoval sacrifice fly.
Cincinnati pulled one back on a Brandon Phillips sixth inning sacrifice fly before the Giants put the game out of reach with a seventh-inning burst keyed by Sandoval’s two-run blast and an RBI double from Marco Scutaro.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue/Greg Stutchbury