CINCINNATI -- Since they came in holding a commanding 2-0 lead, it would normally have been difficult to call a National League Division Series Game 3 a must-win for the Reds. But considering the uncertainty with their rotation, it might have been just that.
The Reds certainly hoped to avoid a Game 4, but that appointment is now set following a 2-1 loss to the Giants in 10 innings on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park. Not only was a superb one-hit performance by starter Homer Bailey rendered moot, missed opportunities bit Cincinnati in the first inning, and shaky defense in the 10th cost the Reds the go-ahead run.
It was Scott Rolen's error on Joaquin Arias' grounder to third base in the 10th that scored Buster Posey. It wasn't a routine play but normally a sure one for an eight-time Gold Glove winner. The grounder took a high hop and handcuffed Rolen as it dinged off of his glove and chest. He recovered, but his throw to first base was late.
"I don't think I would have played it any differently," Rolen said. "I would have tried to catch it if I had the chance to do it again. With a man on third there, it's kind of off the bat. It's not the ground ball I wanted to see off the bat, so I just wanted to be aggressive and try to make the play. It was kind of a do-or-die play."
Rolen has made an error in four of his last five postseason games, going back to 2010.
"It was a tough play," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "The ball came up on him at the last minute. This guy is one of the best. You got to give the baserunner credit for hustling down the line at the same time. Most guys, they're out on that ball. That was just a series of bad events."
As electricity from 44,501 fans filled Great American Ball Park hoping for a series sweep by the Reds, losing reliever Jonathan Broxton took over in the 10th with a 1-1 tie. Broxton gave up singles to Posey and Hunter Pence to start the inning before getting back-to-back strikeouts. Everything changed on the first pitch to Arias.
A two-seamed fastball skipped out of catcher Ryan Hanigan's glove and went behind the plate as the runners advanced.
"It just ran more than I thought. It just took off on me, and I missed it," Hanigan said.
Arias grounded the 1-2 pitch from Broxton in Rolen's direction. It provided San Francisco's very first lead of the NLDS, and it saved its season. The Giants' four runs in the series have come on a solo home run, a wild pitch, a sacrifice fly and now an error.
"That's the playoffs," Broxton said. "It comes down to one play or one at-bat."
Or in the Reds' case, perhaps also the first inning, when four of their first five batters reached safely and the rally yielded their lone run.
Leading off against Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong, Brandon Phillips hit a single to get it started. Phillips stole second base and overzealously tried for third as the ball got behind the catcher Posey on the play. Phillips was thrown out by a perfect throw from Posey.
"I've been doing that all year," Phillips said. "If the throw was a little bit high, or a little bit wide or whatever, I would have been safe. Buster Posey made a great throw. I'm an aggressive baserunner. If I would have been safe, it would have been beautiful. But I wasn't. Would I do it again? Yes I would."
Later in the rally, Jay Bruce's rolling two-out single through the right side scored Zack Cozart for a 1-0 lead. But Rolen was called out on strikes to end the inning, leaving the Reds wishing they did more.
"I knew I had to get through that first inning and keep them at one [run]," Vogelsong said.
The rest of the night, the Reds managed only one infield hit, by Rolen with two outs in the sixth.
"You never know when you're going to have a multitude of opportunities," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "In hindsight, I suppose, it would have been nice to have scored a few more runs. We didn't know how close the game would end up. Kudos to Ryan Vogelsong."
On a night that had former Reds pitcher and perfect-game thrower Tom Browning toss a ceremonial first pitch before the game, and 12 days and two starts removed from Bailey throwing his own no-hitter on Sept. 28 at Pittsburgh, Bailey flirted with another. This time, he kept the Giants hitless for 5 2/3 innings.
Marco Scutaro connected on a 2-2 fastball for a softly lined single into right field to snap the no-hit bid. Bailey, who was moved up from Game 4 to Game 3 as the rotation adjusted due to Johnny Cueto's oblique injury, finished with just that one hit, one walk, one hit batsman and tied a career high with 10 strikeouts.
"Homer was lights-out," Baker said. "That's the best I've seen Homer. I didn't see his no-hitter because I was in the hospital. He's getting better and better, and that's what we had hoped."
After retiring his first six in a row, Bailey hit Gregor Blanco on the shoulder with a pitch, and it would cost the right-hander. A Brandon Crawford walk came next, and after a sacrifice bunt, Angel Pagan made it a 1-1 game with a sacrifice fly to center field.
"I was more aware of the one run as opposed to the one hit," Bailey said.
Bailey retired his next 11 in a row, including a stretch of six consecutive strikeouts, before Scutaro singled.
"We just attacked hitters," said Bailey, who threw first-pitch strikes to his first 13 batters and 19 of 24 overall. "We executed every possible pitch we could."
The Reds on Wednesday morning announced Mike Leake as the stater for Game 4. Leake was added to the NLDS roster, replacing the injured Cueto.
Once again, the Reds need to win to avoid a Game 5 where anything can happen. In 21 previous occasions, no NL team has ever blown a Division Series after having a 2-0 lead.
Confidence still exuded inside the Reds' clubhouse.
"We're still in the driver's seat," Phillips said. "We feel good about ourselves. All you have to do is just win one more game. And then we'll be popping champagne on each other again."