By Claire Reclosado-Baclay
The San Francisco sun was shining with a slight breeze cooling the crowd pouring into AT&T Park. Orange rally rags in hand, circling over the heads of excited San Francisco Giants fans. This felt like October baseball.
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt seemed to set the tone early with a dangerous catch of a foul ball that caused him to flip over a rail by the visitors bullpen. Despite landing in the stands, he emerged with the ball.
Yes, this was the playoffs, the intensity reeked of it and the ballpark was dripping with that postseason feel.
That is, until the visiting Cincinnati Reds drained the energy out of the AT&T Park. It looked like postseason baseball, but as the game progressed, the crowd grew silent and the vibe felt more like worry.
In the end, the Reds came away with the 5-2 win over the Giants and a quick 1-0 game lead in the National League Division Series.
Game 1 seemed to take a turn toward the Giants’ favor when Reds starter Johnny Cueto left after 8 pitches with back spasms, becoming the only starter in postseason history to face only one batter. Cueto’s departure could have been San Francisco’s moment to pounce on an unexpected event, but alas, the home team could not take advantage of the moment.
Initially, Reds pitcher Sam LeCure relieved Cueto, but after 1.2 innings was replaced by possible Game 3 starter Mat Latos. Even with the entrance of Latos, who has been known as a sort of “enemy” of San Francisco, fans didn’t muster up enough life to voice some disdain toward the pitcher.
In the end, fan involvement wasn’t what was playing the game; the San Francisco Giants were the ones who needed to perform, but didn’t.
“Latos is tough,” Bochy said. “He was available and came in and did a great job on us. We didn’t do too much against him until Buster hit the home run.”
Giants starter Matt Cain pitched well, but gave up three runs—a two-run home run to Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips and a solo home run to right fielder Jay Bruce—the only runs he has given up in his postseason career. The two home runs also marked the second time that Matt Cain allowed two home runs in a game at AT&T Park this season.
“He wasn’t as sharp as he normally is,” Bochy said of Cain. “He left up a couple of pitches that they took advantage of and the ball left the park. Really I thought he had good stuff, made a couple of misses there. They took advantage of him and we got down three, had to take him out. He was missing spots a little bit, I think that’s fair to say tonight.”
San Francisco could not stop Phillips from having a great game on both offense and defense. The twitter-friendly Phillips made a number of spectacular defensive plays, including a diving stop of an errant throw that he was backing up behind first base and a few barehanded plays. Offensively, he went 3-for-5 with 3 RBI.
“When I hit that home run, I didn’t know how I did it,” said Phillips after the game. “[Cain’s] a great pitcher and he made mistakes and we took advantage of it.”
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Giants catcher Buster Posey temporarily breathed life into the ballpark with a solo home run into the left field bleachers.
AT&T Park came alive in the eighth and ninth innings when the Giants threatened to make a comeback. The energy reached its peak in the ninth as San Francisco loaded the bases with one out and third baseman Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval was at the plate. Sandoval popped out to Phillips, which set the stage for Posey to tie the game. A wild pitch by Reds closer Aroldis Chapman allowed pinch hitter Joaquin Arias to score, bringing the Giants another run closer to tying or winning the game. Expectations were not fulfilled, however, as Posey struck out to end the game.
With the loss, the Giants fall behind 1-0 in the best-of-five series. Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area brought up an interesting fact tonight—the last time the Giants were able to come back to win a series after losing Game 1 was in the 1912 World Series against the New York Yankees. A fact such as this can bring a fan to worry, but it’s more than just the past that determines a team’s fate. Pitching and offense struggled and the result was a loss. But this is not a “win or go home” series, they still are in this.
“This is one game, and sure you hate to lose the opener and we’re at home, but we have a lot of baseball left,” Bochy said. “These guys have been resilient all year, and now it’s time for us to wash this off and be ready to go back at it tomorrow.”
Claire Reclosado-Baclay is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco Giants. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.