CINCINNATI - Clearly the San Francisco Giants are a different team from the one that limped across the country to Great American Ball Park trailing the Cincinnati Reds two games to none in the National League Division Series.
Whether it was Hunter Pence's motivational speeches, or Tim Lincecum's rejuvenation out of the bullpen, or the sudden power surge that produced home runs by Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco and Pablo Sandoval in an 8-3 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday, the Giants somehow have picked themselves off the mat to force a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.
"Thanks to Hunter, he inspired us to go out there and be positive and bring the best we can bring," said Pagan of Pence's pre-game gatherings in the dugout that began prior to Game 3. "Thanks to the win today there will be a tomorrow. We are ready for that."
The best-of-five division series is tied 2-2 and concludes on Thursday afternoon with the winner moving on to the NL Championship Series against either St. Louis or Washington. The Cardinals lead that series two games to one.
Giants right-hander Matt Cain will oppose Reds right-hander Mat Latos in Game 5, which will begin at 1:07 p.m. EST if Oakland wins Wednesday's Game 4 of the ALDS, or 2:07 p.m. EST if the Tigers close out that series on Wednesday.
"We haven't done anything yet," said San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy. "I'm proud of how our guys fought. We're excited about being in this position, when you come in here 0-2."
Barry Zito lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Wednesday, but the Giants bullpen stymied the Reds' bats. Lincecum (1-0) allowed just one run and two hits and fanned six over 4 1/3 innings of relief to earn the victory.
Ryan Ludwick homered for shell-shocked Cincinnati, which will try to avoid becoming the first team since the division series was added in 1995 to lose a series after leading two games to none.
"It starts with the starting pitching. And we feel comfortable with Latos throwing tomorrow," said Reds manager Dusty Baker.
Reds right-hander Mike Leake, named the emergency starter hours before the game and making his first career postseason start, allowed Pagan's solo home run on his just second pitch as the Giants went ahead 1-0.
Zito issued three consecutive walks in the first inning, including one to Todd Frazier with the bases loaded to force home the tying run. Zito threw 29 pitches in the first, but Cincinnati left the bases loaded when Dioner Navarro struck out swinging to end the inning.
Zito was making his first playoff appearance since Oct. 10, 2006, when he started for Oakland in Game 1 of the ALCS.
"Zito worked hard. I thought he had decent stuff," said Bochy. "He was missing pitches and his pitch count got up there a little bit."
The Giants regained the lead on Blanco's towering two-run home run off Leake in the second inning, making the score 3-1. Leake retired eight of nine batters following Blanco's home run, but the Giants never relinquished the lead.
Ludwick led off the third with a solo home run off Zito. It was Ludwick's second homer in the division series and trimmed the Reds' deficit to 3-2.
Zito exited with two outs in the third inning after throwing 76 pitches and allowing two runs on four hits. George Kontos replaced Zito, who struck out four and walked four.
The Reds had two on with one out in the fourth, but the Giants bullpen came through when Jose Mijares struck out Joey Votto, and Lincecum fanned Ludwick to end the inning.
"Right now I feel like the times are different," said Lincecum. "I'm not thinking about the difference of starting or being in the bullpen. We're playing to get to the NLCS or further. I've just got to get my outs."
Joaquin Arias and Pagan began the fifth with consecutive doubles increasing San Francisco's lead to 4-2. Sandoval's sacrifice fly off Sam LeCure gave the Giants a three-run lead.
Leake pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing five earned runs on six hits.
"He was throwing strikes, just not quality strikes," said Baker.
Sandoval blasted a 2-1 pitch from Jose Arredondo 422 feet into the visitors bullpen for a two-run home run, making the score 8-3 in the seventh. Arredondo allowed three earned runs in one-third of an inning.
"It's probably hard for them to believe that we were up 2-0 out there," said Baker. "So they reversed things on us. It won't matter if we win tomorrow. We know they're a quality team. We knew it was going to be a fight."
NOTES: The Cincinnati Reds didn't officially name Leake as the starting pitcher for Wednesday's Game 4 until a few hours before the game. "It was a tough decision, big-time," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. Leake replaced Johnny Cueto on the postseason roster. Cueto, who's recovering from a strained right oblique, will not be eligible to pitch in the National League Championship Series should the Reds advance, but would be eligible for the World Series. ... Baker stuck with his routine of resting third baseman Scott Rolen for a day game following a night game. Frazier made his first career postseason start on Wednesday at third base. ... Prior to Wednesday's game, Bochy addressed his decision to start Hector Sanchez behind the plate and put Buster Posey at first base for Game 4. "Yeah, we talked about it quite a bit as a staff," Bochy said. "I think Hector has done a great job handling Zito, and I think Buster has too, and I think we're getting a good bat in there." ... In Game 3 on Tuesday night the Giants became just the fifth team in MLB postseason history to win despite striking out 16 times. Only three teams have struck out more times in a postseason victory.