CINCINNATI - The San Francisco Giants' dugout erupted when Buster Posey hit a fifth-inning grand slam off Mat Latos to put them ahead by six runs in Thursday's decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series. But the third grand slam in Giants postseason history wasn't the only cause for celebration in the Giants' 6-4 series-clinching victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
There was Angel Pagan's diving catch that saved two runs in the eighth inning, and hit-robbing grabs by Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco that helped seal an improbable trip to the NL championship series. A gusty effort by starting pitcher Matt Cain also was a factor.
It took a monumental team effort to become the first team in the current format (the first two games are played at one home site and the final three at the other) to capture three consecutive games on the road to win the series.
"It's hard to explain, but we have a unique chemistry," said Hunter Pence, who began rallying his teammates with motivational pregame speeches prior to Game 3. "You could feel everyone just coming together, playing for each other. We all feed off it."
Cincinnati had won the first two games of the best-of-five division series at AT&T Park before the Giants roared back to tie the series with victories in Games 3 and 4 in Cincinnati. And on Thursday it was Bruce Bochy's club dousing itself with champagne.
"To come in here and do what they did is quite a task," said Bochy. "Against all odds, they found a way to get it done."
In the home clubhouse, the mood was drastically different. Cincinnati entered the postseason with the NL's second-best record, and the Reds went up 2-0 in the division series despite losing No. 1 starter Johnny Cueto with a right oblique strain. In the end, they were unable to stave off the surging Giants.
"I'm proud of them, and proud they fought until the end," said Reds manager Dusty Baker of his club, which won the NL Central title with 97 wins. "This is going to take a while to heal. But like everything it will heal. Sometimes you just get tired of disappointments."
Starters Cain and Latos cruised through the early innings in Game 5. Latos (0-1) retired 10 straight following Pablo Sandoval's first-inning single. Cain (1-1) allowed just two hits in four innings with help from Blanco, who made a diving grab of Zack Cozart's liner to end the third.
But Latos, who had gone 2-0 with an 0.56 ERA in two regular-season starts against the Giants and pitched four strong innings against the Giants in Game 1, got roughed up in the fifth.
Crawford drove home the game's first run with a RBI triple, which scored Blanco from first, putting the Giants ahead 1-0 in the fifth. Crawford scored from third when Cozart bobbled Pagan's bouncer over the mound, making the score 2-0.
Two batters later, Posey launched a grand slam into the left-field bleachers on a 2-2 pitch from Latos, giving the Giants a 6-0 lead they would not relinquish.
"I was trying to make sure I got the run home from third," said Posey. "I was able to get a pitch in the zone and got the barrel on it. Good things happened."
Cincinnati wasn't done, though. Brandon Phillips doubled home two runs in the fifth. And Ryan Ludwick hit his third home run in the division series leading off the sixth to make the score 6-3.
The Giants' defense came through again in the eighth when Ryan Hanigan was robbed of a hit on Crawford's diving catch, and Pagan prevented two runs from scoring with his sliding grab of pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro's sinking liner.
"I was in good position, so I was able to get a good jump on the ball," Pagan said. "I felt like that might've saved the game right there."
The Reds had one last chance, however. Cozart walked and Joey Votto singled with one out in the ninth against Sergio Romo. Ludwick delivered a RBI single to make the score 6-4. With runners on first and second, Jay Bruce battled Romo in a 12-pitch at-bat before flying out. Romo then struck out Scott Rolen to earn the save, setting off a wild celebration before 44,142 stunned Cincinnati fans.
NOTES: San Francisco became the first NL team since the division series was introduced in 1995 to come back from an 0-2 deficit to win, and the first team in either league to win three straight games on the road to win a five-game postseason series. ... The Giants move on to the league championship series for the sixth time in franchise history, first since winning the 2010 World Series. ... Following Thursday's game, Baker was asked about his future in Cincinnati. The Reds have won two NL Central titles during his tenure, losing in the NLDS both times. Baker's contract was up after this season. "I'm not sure where my career is going here in Cincinnati," Baker said. "We're going to talk about that in the next couple days. But I'm not through managing yet. I have more to do." ... Cincinnati is just the eighth team to have a 2-0 advantage in a best-of-five series and lose the series. The Reds have not won a home playoff game since Game 3 of the 1995 NLDS against the Dodgers.