CINCINNATI – The fans kept waving brooms, and the scoreboard kept showing them in high definition, looming over left field, larger than life. There were old-fashioned wooden ones. There were plastic painted ones. There were red ones, of course, but there were also brown ones, blue ones, black ones, orange ones, some with white rally towels tied to the handles.
Then there were the most arrogant ones of all – green ones that looked more like Swiffers, as if the San Francisco Giants were dust mites so insignificant, they didn't require bristles.
This was supposed to be Cincinnati's night. After 17 years without a postseason victory, the Reds had taken the first two games of this National League Division Series on the road. Now they had come home, and right-hander Homer Bailey, just 11 days removed from a no-hitter, was throwing another no-no and the three-game sweep was certain …
Until it wasn't.
Until Bailey was yanked from the on-deck circle for a pinch hitter, because even though he had allowed zero hits through 5 2/3 innings and only one through seven, the game was tied 1-1.
Until the top of the 10th, when the go-ahead run advanced to third because of a passed ball by Ryan Hanigan, whom longtime Cincinnati scribes consider the best defensive catcher the Reds have had since Johnny Bench, and the go-ahead run scored because of an error by third baseman Scott Rolen, an eight-time Gold Glove winner.
Until the Giants, who struck out 16 times and had only one hit through nine innings, who manufactured one run and lucked into another, secured a 2-1 victory Tuesday night. They high-fived across the infield as the fans filed out slowly, dragging all those brooms back home.
"That was just a series of bad events," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
"We were fortunate," Giants reliever Sergio Romo said.
For two games, everything went right for the Reds. They lost their ace, right-hander Johnny Cueto, to back spasms just eight pitches into the opener and still won, 5-2. Then they blew out the Giants, 9-0. But this time, everything that went right turned wrong, and celebration turned into swearing.
"I would have rather pitched [crappy] and got the win," Bailey said.
Bailey was not [crappy]. He was [bleeping] good. He located his fastball, stayed ahead in the count. "He was hiding it well, and he was sinking it, cutting it and forcing it," said Giants catcher Buster Posey, who led the NL in hitting during the regular season but went 0-for-3 off Bailey with two strikeouts.
How good was Bailey?
"I think I had better stuff tonight than I did when I threw a no-hitter," Bailey said.
"We couldn't do anything against Homer Bailey," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
But the Giants got a run off him in the third, when left fielder Gregor Blanco got hit by a pitch, went to second on a walk, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and tied the game on a sac fly. They finally got a hit off Bailey in the sixth, when second baseman Marco Scutaro smacked a single down the right-field line.
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So when Bailey walked into the on-deck circle to start the bottom of the seventh, he knew he was coming out for a pinch hitter, despite having struck out 10, despite having thrown only 82 pitches, unless the guy in front of him hit a solo homer to give the Reds the lead. Bailey didn't even bother to take a practice swing. He leaned against the backstop wall, wearing his warm-up jacket, bat by his side, ankles crossed.
When center fielder Drew Stubbs grounded out, Bailey ripped off his helmet and headed back into the dugout, done.
"Sometimes it's a tough pill to swallow," Bailey said, "but it's just the National League."
There would be more pills.
Top of the 10th, runners on first and second, two outs. Reds reliever Jonathan Broxton tried to throw a two-seamer up and in. It didn't go up, but it went in … and in … and in. Hanigan catches errant pitches like that all the time, but not this one.
"It just ran more than I thought," Hanigan said. "It just took off on me. I missed it."
Runners at second and third. Giants infielder Joaquin Arias hit a chopper to third. Knowing he had a runner at third, knowing Arias had speed, Rolen didn't stay back to field the ball on a big hop. He tried to be aggressive, tried to get the ball on an in-between hop. He makes plays like that all the time, but not this one.
The ball hit his glove but didn't stick in it. He grabbed it off the dirt. His throw was a step late.
The Giants scored.
"I wasn't able to make the play," Rolen said. "It cost us the game."
It did not cost the Reds the series. They still hold a 2-1 lead with two more games at home. But Cueto's status is still uncertain, and there is confusion surrounding their pitching situation, and the bats have gone cold, and they still have never won a playoff game at Great American Ball Park.
And now the Giants have gone from insignificant dust mites to the good kind of dirty.
"We are a gritty and grinding team," Romo said. "This is the example of the will to fight, the will to win, the will to survive."
Rolen said he wouldn't handle that ground ball any differently next time. Still, he kept going over that play in his head, wondering what the heck happened, how it all went wrong.
If only the Reds could borrow a broom to sweep it away.
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