CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati's ace is out of action. His replacement let the Reds down on Wednesday. Now, they are turning to Mat Latos — their biggest offseason addition — to avoid an unprecedented playoff meltdown.
The Reds saw the 2-0 lead they built in San Francisco evaporate as the Giants pounced on emergency starter Mike Leake for five runs in four-plus innings on the way to an 8-3 win that tied their best-of-five National League Division Series, 2-2.
Cincinnati now pins its hopes on Latos in Thursday's decisive Game 5. Latos, helping out after starter Johnny Cueto suffered a strained muscle in his right side one out into Game 1 of the series Saturday, pitched four effective relief innings in the Reds' 5-2 win at San Francisco.
"It's another game," Latos said. "It's a team that I'm comfortable with — a team that I've faced before. I'm just looking at it as another start. I've just got to go out there and pitch my game."
Right fielder Jay Bruce believes the Reds still have an edge in the series, even after two straight losses.
"All you can ask for is an opportunity," said Bruce, who went 0-for-3 on Wednesday, "We control our destiny. We feel like their backs are against the wall. This isn't their home field."
Rookie third baseman Toddd Frazier echoed Bruce.
"We've just got to keep thinking we're still ahead," he said. "We know what we're capable of and know what we can do. They've got a little momentum, but we're at home, and the fans aere going to be behind us 100 percent."
The Reds hoped to bring Cueto — their leading winner at 19-9 in the regular season — back for Wednesday's game. Instead, they were forced to scratch him and replace him on the roster with Leake less than five hours before Wednesday's game. Angel Pagan hit Leake's second pitch for a home run and Gregor Blanco added a two-run shot in the second inning to give San Francisco the lead for good.
Leake, making his post-season debut, allowed six hits and five runs with two walks and one strikeout in 4 1-3 innings.
"It felt like there were more fans, but it was still another game," he said about his first postseason appearance. "I would like to have done a little better. They were putting good swings on the ball, but it was mainly me missing spots and them taking advantage."
Latos, acquired last December from San Diego for four players, lost his first two decisions with Cincinnati before beating the Giants, 9-2, on April 24. He already had a history of acrimony with Giants fans dating back to 2010, when the Giants eliminated the Padres from contention and he responded by signing three baseballs for a off-season charity function and adding "I hate S.F." to his autograph.
"2012 was in 2010," Latos said. "2012 is a little different. It's two years ago."
Latos is the man the Reds want on the mound, manager Dusty Baker said.
"You wish you had Johnny Cueto, but you don't," Baker said. "Right now, it's Mat's turn, and he's strong. He's on his regular turn, unlike his last time out."
The Reds haven't lost three straight games all season at Great American Ball Park, but they've lost five straight post-season games in Cincinnati since beating Los Angeles, 10-1, to clinch a 1995 NLDS. Cincinnati lost the first two games of that year's NLCS to Atlanta at Riverfront Stadium and fell to Philadelphia in the third and final game of a 2010 NLDS before this year's back-to-back losses to San Francisco. The Reds also are hoping to avoid becoming the first NL team to lose a division series after winning the first two games. The previous 21 teams that took 2-0 leads won their series.
The Reds pieced together a hit and three straight walks off of Giants starter Barry Zito to score a first-inning run, and Ryan Ludwick led off the third with his second home run of the series, but Cincinnati left a combined eight runners on base in the first four innings, opening the door for San Francisco to build a 5-2 lead. The Reds added a run in the sixth on Brandon Phillips' sacrifice fly, but the Giants broke the game open with a three-run seventh capped by Pablo Sandoval's two-run homer off of reliever Jose Arredondo.
Baker isn't surprised that the Giants — the team he managed for 10 years and led to a World Series appearance in 2002, his last season — have come back to tie the series.
"It's probably hard for them to believe that we were up 2-0 out there," he said. "So they reversed on us what we did to them out there, and we have a big game — the rubber match — tomorrow. It won't matter, if we win tomorrow, how many games you were up, but you know they're a quality team, and we knew it was going to be a fight when we got here."