CINCINNATI — For 27 straight innings the Cincinnati Reds were practically perfect — impeccable defense, flawless pitching and punctual offense.
That’s the equivalent of three games and should have been enough for the Reds to put away the persistent and plucky San Francisco Giants in three straight games.
But there was a problem Tuesday night in Game 3. The Reds had to play an extra inning, the 10th inning, their 28th inning of the National League Division Series.
And it all came apart in the span of three outs and when it ended the Giants owned a 2-1 victory to stay afloat in the NLDS, trailing two games to one in the best-of-five series.
It was 1-1 entering the 10th inning and the Giants owned two hits as Cincinnati’s 6-foot-4, 300-pound Jonathan Broxton took the mound.
He promptly gave up back-to-back ground-ball singles to Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, putting runners on first and second with no outs.
Then came a meltdown by two of the Reds’ best defensive players, catcher Ryan Hanigan and third baseman Scott Rolen.
First, though, Broxton struck out Brandon Belt and Xavier Nady. But with Joaquin Arias at the plate, a Broxton pitch skittered off Hanigan’s glove for a passed ball, moving the runners to second and third.
“I was trying to go up and in and snatched it across the plate,” said Broxton. “It was a sinker in and just took off, hit him on the glove and went to the wall.”
Said Hanigan, “It ran more than I thought and just took off on me. A two-seamer that I couldn’t handle.”
Arias then topped one on a slow roll toward shortstop. Rolen, owner of eight Gold Gloves, charged the ball and tried to gather it on a short hop. But it bounced off his glove and though he recovered and threw to first, Arias was safe and Posey was across home plate. Rolen was charged with an error that permitted the winning run.
“Broxton got us a ground ball and I just wasn’t able to make the play,” said Rolen. “It cost us the game. I wouldn’t play it any differently if I had it again, other than I’d try to catch it. With a guy on third that wasn’t the kind of ground ball I wanted to see.
“I wanted to be aggressive and try to make the play because I knew it was do-or-die,” Rolen added. “It was in the hole, an in-between hop and it hit my glove and didn’t stick in it. Not the outcome we wanted or the set of interviews I wanted to be doing right now.”
Nearly obscured in the unusual finish were the pitching performances of starters Homer Bailey for the Reds and Ryan Vogelsong for the Giants.
Bailey gave up one run and one hit for his seven innings, striking out 10. The Giants scored their run without a hit in the third on a hit batter, walk, sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly by Angel Pagan.
Vogelsong gave up three hits and a walk in the first inning, but only one run because of a base-running gaffe by Brandon Phillips.
Phillips led the bottom of the first with a single. He stole second and when catcher Buster Posey bobbled the ball, Phillips bolted for third and was thrown out. Then came a walk to Zack Cozart and singles by Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce for a run. But it should have been two.
After that the Reds had one more hit from the second through the 10th, a slow infield roller in the third-base grass by Rolen in the sixth. Bruce was hit by a pitch before Rolen’s infield hit, but with two outs Hanigan grounded out.
Bailey, who threw a no-hitter in Pittsburgh two starts ago, said he had better stuff this night — and could have thrown another no-hitter.
“I had a good fastball again, good location, and executed every pitch we possibly could,” said Bailey. “I was more aware of the one run than the no hits because they had that run without a hit and I had to protect that 1-1 tie. And you have to tip your hat to Vogelsong because he pitched a hell of a game, too (five innings, one run, three hits).”
There will be a Game 4 Wednesday afternoon and for sure the Giants will pitch left-hander Barry Zito. And for sure the Reds don’t know who will pitch.
Johnny Cueto is fighting the dreaded sore oblique and is not available. It is likely the Reds will come back with Mat Latos on three days of rest after he stepped in Saturday in Game 1 to pitch four innings after Cueto departed eight pitches into the game. Or they could put Cueto on the disabled list and activate No. 5 starter Mike Leake.
The Reds would like to avoid putting Cueto on the DL because he would then be ineligible for the National League Championship Series.
“This is a very difficult thing,” said manager Dusty Baker. “But it all depends on if your ace (Cueto) can’t go. You have to go with the healthy bodies. We realize what’s at stake and that’s part of the decision — whether Cueto can go in the next series.”
First, though, the Reds must win this series and it is down to them winning one of the final two games.