|Bronson Arroyo's arm helps give Cincinnati a big leg up in its NLDS against San Francisco. (AP)|
SAN FRANCISCO -- With his team's season just about ready for the taxidermist, Madison Bumgarner was resplendent in a camouflage "Ducks Unlimited" baseball cap as he tried to explain away this one.
"They hit 'em where we weren't."
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The Reds have all but bagged themselves a six-point NLDS, declaring open season on the Giants before Bruce Bochy's club even knew they were within range of a Cincinnati club that looked good in Game 1 and great in Game 2.
Bronson Arroyo changed pitches, locations, arm angles and the entire tone of this series during seven brilliant innings. By the time he was finished, the Giants were so desperate they not only used two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum out of the bullpen, they left Buster Posey behind the plate during Lincecum's two innings of relief work.
Posey never catches Lincecum.
That's how desperate things are for the Giants.
As they prepare for a Monday charter flight to Cincinnati for Game 3 on Tuesday, their season is in critical condition. One more loss, and Bumgarner and Co. are free to spend the rest of the winter in the nearest hunting blind.
"It's different," Posey said of Arroyo and his multiple arm angles. "He moves the ball around. And you can't necessarily, just because he drops down, bet that an off-speed pitch is coming.
"He did a nice job. In my at-bats, I don't think he threw too many balls down the middle of the plate. He probably didn't to the other guys, either."
The fact that the Giants right now couldn't hit grease if they fell out of a French fry basket aside, Arroyo had them eating out of his hand as if feeding breadcrumbs to ducks at a lake.
The 35-year-old Reds right-hander retired the first 14 Giants in a row, carrying the perfect game into the fifth until Brandon Belt delivered a two-out single. He whiffed four Giants hitters in a row, the bottom four in the lineup, in the second and third.
It was a completely different Reds attack from the night before.
In Game 1, starter Johnny Cueto lasted only eight pitches before back spasms chased him. The AT&T Park crowd roared as he left, sensing the Reds falling into trouble practically before this series started. Wrong. Manager Dusty Baker patched things together with five relievers after Cueto, including erstwhile starter Mat Latos, who volunteered on the spot, for the final 26 outs.
In Game 2, Arroyo obtained the first 21 outs as the Giants suffered their worst postseason shutout in franchise history.
By late Sunday night, this was a San Francisco team that was totally and thoroughly flummoxed.
"[Saturday], it was kind of different, like spring training," second baseman Marco Scutaro said. "I faced three different pitchers in my first two at-bats."
Cueto departed two pitches into Scutaro's at-bat Saturday.
"It's difficult because you have a game plan against the starter, and then two pitches and he's out," Scutaro continued. "And the next couple of at-bats are against two different guys.
"They've got a good team, good pitching and good hitting."
Great American Ballpark is famously friendly to hitters. Maybe that combined with San Francisco's affinity for life on the road will revive Bochy's club. The Giants had the best road record in the majors in the second half of this season.
But if these guys don't figure out a way to get on base, forget it. The top two hitters in the Giants' lineup, leadoff man Angel Pagan and Scutaro, are a combined 1 for 17 so far. Add three-hole hitter Pablo Sandoval's 2 for 9 to the mix, and the top three hitters are 3 for 26.
Sitting ducks, is what that makes the Giants.
"Obviously, things are not going the way we expected," Scutaro said.
"Seems like every ball they hit hard or soft finds a hole," Scutaro continued. "They're getting big hits with runners in scoring position. Their momentum is very good right now."
"Seems like we can't get no breaks," Scutaro continued. "We hit the ball hard, and they make nice plays, or it's hit right at somebody."
What's so utterly amazing about these playoffs, every time, is how one day's optimism can turn into a full-blown red alert 24 hours later. Like now, in San Francisco.
Saturday afternoon, memories of the Giants' 2010 World Series title were still fresh.
Sunday night late, it felt like they were boarding up AT&T Park for the winter.
"We've just got to swing the bats better," said right fielder and five-hole hitter Hunter Pence, 0 for 8 over the first two games. "We've got to hit better. We've got to score more runs.
"Me personally, I haven't gotten hit yet. That's pretty tough."
But at least he's got plenty of company. The Giants now are deep into survival mode, and there's no camouflaging it.