The San Francisco Giants are the first team to clinch a spot in the next round of the playoffs after their 6-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. It’s quite likely that as recently as Tuesday, the Giants would’ve seemed the least likely to advance from their division series. However, baseball.

In what started as a pitching duel between starters Mat Latos of Cincinnati and Matt Cain of San Francisco turned into something of a shootout in the top of the fifth inning when the Giants put up a crooked six on the scoreboard, thanks mainly to a heroic triple from Brandon Crawford and a grand slam from Buster Posey. This was followed by the Reds getting two runs back in the bottom half of the inning with a Brandon Phillips double, and then another run off a solo home run from Ryan Ludwick in the bottom of the sixth. A run in the bottom of the ninth made things stressfully close, but it simply wasn’t enough.

Not wanting to make the same mistake that his counterpart did in leaving his starting pitcher in too long, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy went to his bullpen and called on effective relief from George Kontos, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez (somewhat) and Sergio Romo (although, nervously). They, along with stellar defensive efforts from Brandon Crawford and Angel Pagan held off the charge of the Reds with the tying run coming to the plate on four separate occasions after the fifth inning.

It was all a truly excellent game.

The Win Expectancy Graph

The Revised Win Expectancy Graphs

The Most Important Play Of The Game

Buster Posey’s grand slam in the top of the fifth inning put the San Francisco Giants ahead by six runs, and sent Cincinnati Reds starter Mat Latos to the showers with a message that the door swings both ways. Posey had struggled throughout the National League Division Series, seemingly getting under pitches instead of hitting them as squarely as he had during the regular season.

In his third plate appearance of the game, Latos gave Posey five straight fastballs of varying velocity, with the fifth pitch coming on a 2-2 count:

  1. 92 mph, taken for a ball;
  2. 89 mph, fouled off;
  3. 92 mph, taken for a ball;
  4. 93 mph, swing and miss;
  5. 94 mph, grand slam.

There’s little doubt that the final pitch was something of a meatball, right down the middle of the plate.

However, not all chefs can make a meal out of a meatball. Buster Posey certainly can:

Even though the Reds fought back valiantly, Posey’s swing increased his team’s winning probability by more than 13%, and it’s far from a stretch to claim that the Most Valuable Player in the league this season won the game and the series for his team with the home run.

The Shamsky Award

Named after Art Shamsky, who single handedly increased the Cincinnati Reds’ chances of winning by 150.3% in a losing effort during a game in 1966, The Shamsky Award is given to the player on the losing team who contributes the most to them winning.

Ryan Ludwick played his best game of the post season today, which is saying something. From his home run in the sixth to his run scoring single in the ninth, he increased the likelihood of his team’s winning, in a losing effort, more than any other member of the Cincinnati Reds.

The Things You Won’t Believe

Mat Latos is listed in both the “15 Coolest Tattoos In MLB History” & “MLB: The 13 Most Embarrassing Player Tattoos” on Bleacher Report.

Mat Latos has a cat, and it’s rather cleverly named Cat Latos. Cat Latos has a Twitter account. It’s not quite as clever as its namesake.

Tweets Of The Game

The Aggravating Thing The Manager Did

Dusty Baker probably left Mat Latos in the game too long in the top of the fifth inning. Two runs had already scored when the Cincinnati starter walked Marco Scutaro on four straight pitches to put a couple of runners on base. If Baker hadn’t considered using what should have been a short leash on Latos in a do-or-die game at that point, he definitely should have after the next batter reached base, even if it was via a weak single.

Even without considering the loaded bases and the two runs that had already scored, Latos was rattled because of the inconsistent strike zone being called by home plate umpire Tomm Hallion. Leaving the pitcher in to face the opposing team’s best hitter in that situation was asking for trouble, and trouble is what came of it for the Reds.

You might also make a case that Bruce Bochy went with Matt Cain a bit too long as well, letting him get two outs in the sixth before pulling the plug on his start. He was merely lucky in avoiding the damage that hurt Baker and the Reds. Given his success this season with his bullpen management (see: yesterday), I’ll give Bochy, who pulled Cain before he got into trouble rather than after, and stuck with Jeremy Affeldt, the benefit of the doubt.

Part of the reason that Cain got two outs in the sixth was because of a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play. I have no idea why Baker would send Jay Bruce, on second at the time, with two on and none out like that. It completely killed the rally while also ending Cain’s day.

Unsolicited Advice To Sam LeCure

Keep the ‘stache. Ditch the flavor saver.

Stray Observations

I don’t often wish people ill, but before the fifth inning of today’s game, I would’ve very much liked to punch Mat Latos in the face. I don’t say this as a means of making myself sound tougher than I am. I have no delusions about what would happen if Mat Latos and I found ourselves in a fair fight. I would get beat up. I would probably get beat up pretty severely, but all the same, I would’ve very much liked to punch Mat Latos in the face.

It’s amazing how quickly pity can dispel feelings of rage.

Why does Matt Cain insist on throwing pitches to Jay Bruce in the part of the strike zone that he is most likely to get hits against right-handed pitching?

Brandon Phillips is just so good. He knocked in two runs in the fifth inning with a double that he seemingly willed to happen. Then, in the top of the eighth, he saved a run when he snagged what looked to be an impossible ground ball up the middle off the bat of Brandon Belt with Hunter Pence on second base.

A foul ball almost hit Jeremy Affeldt as he watched the game from the dugout. He dodged the ball, but fell down the stairs. He was seen later in the game with some sort of brace on his throwing forearm and wrist. That’s not good news.

It’s taken a long time for me to warm up to Brandon Crawford. He’s not the most valuable of middle infielders, but every once in a while he’s capable of having a game like he did today: a run scoring triple and a huge defensive play in the bottom of the eighth.

There must be other words in the English language that you can use to refer to Todd Frazier other than “Rookie of the Year candidate.” Perhaps those words could be shared with the TBS broadcasters.

As good as the Giants relievers were, with the possible exception of Javier Lopez (so, that’s why he hasn’t gotten very man playoffs reps), Angel Pagan’s diving catch in center field in the eighth inning probably saved the game, and at the very least saved the game from being a heck of a lot closer. Watching his reaction to the catch, I thought he had trapped the ball, and was attempting to get it back into the infield as quickly as he could. I’ve never been happier to have been wrong.

This game was thrilling to the end. That penultimate battle between Jay Bruce and Sergio Romo was breath and heart-taking. Romo knew that Bruce feasts off high and outside pitches from righties. Bruce knew he could make contact with most of what Romo offered in the strike zone.

Rolen … should of hit it. #ShouldOf

If the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals today, the San Francisco Giants will have home field advantage for the remainder of the MLB post season, including the World Series.

Three Stars

  1. Buster Posey: See The Most Important Play Of The Game.
  2. Bruce Bochy: I covered it a little bit it in referring to his bullpen management, but the Giants manager was note perfect in using his relief corps today. When one ran into trouble he went to another based on the best possible matchup. When one was doing well, he let him keep at it. When he needed a little bit more from one, he’d send Dave Righetti to go talk to him. It all seemed to work very well.
  3. Brandon Phillips: The Reds second baseman did everything he possibly could to keep his team in this game, and with Joey Votto playing through injury, he had to do a lot. With these two players locked up for a long time in Cincinnati, it’s hard to imagine them not having more chances in the years to come, even as the two players begin their decline phase. That’s a good thing because Phillips is one of the most entertaining players in baseball, and he deserves the biggest stage possible.

Honorable Mention: The Cincinnati Reds bullpen had four and two thirds innings of shutout baseball. It makes you wonder what could have been if Dusty Baker went to it sooner than he did.