SAN FRANCISCO -- Lowest point of the season for Cincinnati, currently holding onto first place in the NL Central with the snarl of a bulldog and the growl of a grizzly?
It sure wasn't getting clocked by a combined score of 27-7 over the first two games here.
|Francisco Cordero's Reds are still looking up after their 6-3 West Coast trip. (AP)|
But like Houdini himself, the Reds ducked out of it, Most Valuable Player candidate Joey Votto powering them home with two homers and then the game-winning single in the 12th to cap an impressive 6-3 West Coast road trip with a 12-11 win.
"Huge battle," weary manager Dusty Baker moaned after the 4-hour, 25-minute barrage between the two National League heavyweight contenders. "Outstanding battle."
It was October in August at AT&T Park. When the Giants came back with six in the eighth, the joint was rocking. The 36,310 sounded like 136,310. In maneuvering back from a 10-1 deficit, the Giants ran out of pitchers. They finished with Barry Zito, scheduled to start Saturday against Arizona, making only the second relief appearance of his career.
The Giants had never come back from nine runs down to win a game since moving to San Francisco. And though their suddenly dangerous new offense gets an "A" for effort, in Cincinnati, they picked the wrong team to dream against.
Regrets? Yes, the Reds have had a few this summer.
Turning a 9-3 lead into a 10-9 loss in Atlanta on May 20 wasn't too good. Getting swept in four games in Philadelphia to close the first half of the season left them simmering. And getting swept by St. Louis at home earlier this month in the brawl-scarred series stoked when infielder Brandon Phillips called the Cards "whiny little bitches" might have been the worst of all.
Yet not only are the Reds still standing, here it is, late August, and they're now enjoying their 11th consecutive day in first place ahead of St. Louis.
Nothing has kept the Reds down for long this season. So why would a little -- and nearly a large -- dose of humiliation in San Francisco?
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As manager Dusty Baker was saying before Wednesday's matinee, "You hate sitting there getting your butt kicked anytime ... but it was a little easier [Tuesday] because the Cardinals had lost."
Perspective with honesty is the best kind. There's your answer for whether it's too early for scoreboard watching.
Interestingly, Votto said even if the Giants had stuck the Reds with the sweep on Wednesday, he wouldn't have viewed that as even lower than the aforementioned low points of 2010.
"No, because I think it would have given us an opportunity to overcome it," Votto said. "Those aren't necessarily bad things."
Especially, as things are turning out in this magical Cincinnati summer, for this particular group of Reds.
"Getting swept in four games before the All-Star break in Philadelphia was brutal," Votto said. "But we overcame it.
"Today was the byproduct of us thinking we can come back from anything."
Really, it was an unbelievable afternoon of pennant-race baseball. Atlanta, another first-place team, also blew a 10-1 lead. The Braves wound up losing in Colorado. The Reds coughed away a 10-1 cruise but regained their footing.
At AT&T Park, it also was the odd afternoon in which both teams could come away feeling good -- even if it was about different things.
Pablo Sandoval suddenly is hitting everything, and so is Freddy Sanchez. The Giants popped for 38 runs and 53 hits in these three games, won two of three, tied Philadelphia for the NL wild-card lead on Tuesday and have the look of a team that believes in itself.
The Reds came through their biggest trip of the season with a 6-3 record, and that's no small thing out west for them. Over the last five seasons, Cincinnati was 18-38 on the West Coast.
"I'll take 6-3 in a heartbeat," second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "I love it. It's difficult out here. But this team, we've got guys who know how to win. That's what it's all about."
More and more, these Reds continue to prove their resiliency, which could be bad news for the Cardinals but great news for those of us who think there's nothing better than a tense hardball stretch drive as the nights cool and the leaves turn.
But there's plenty more to overcome. Phillips left the game in the fifth Wednesday after taking a 95 mph fastball from Santiago Casilla off of his right hand, and the Reds were concerned afterward. The hand was badly swollen, so much so that X-rays couldn't reveal anything.
|Brandon Phillips suffers an injury in the gutty win, a cause for concern. (AP)|
"Of course I'm worried," he said. "Any time you have to take X-rays, you're worried."
Worried, but happy.
"Anytime you win, it really helps out," Phillips said. "We're really looking forward to the next series [it begins Friday, at home, against the Cubs].
"Hopefully, some guys who are injured can come back and help."
So the Reds still face several questions over the next few days, let alone the next few weeks.
Can Phillips get back on the field sooner rather than later when the swelling goes down?
How badly does the Reds' pitching need to regroup?
And with one more showdown series with St. Louis looming in Missouri two weekends hence, will the Reds turn starter Johnny Cueto loose after he was hit with a seven-game suspension after the brawl for kicking several people, and delivering a concussion to backup catcher Jason LaRue?
"I don't know yet," Baker said. "He's going to have to pitch against them sometime. They say in some circumstances in life time heals all wounds. Sometimes it doesn't.
"That's too far down the line, man."
The Reds are simply trying to breathe deeply enough to get through today first.