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Anthony Castrovince

Pushed to the brink, Giants do what it takes

Castrovince: Pushed to brink, Giants do what it takes

Pushed to the brink, Giants do what it takes play video for Pushed to the brink, Giants do what it takes
CINCINNATI -- The Giants' backs were to the wall, in the figurative sense, and on the line, in the physical sense.

"We didn't fly all the way across the country," Jeremy Affeldt was saying after Game 3 of this National League Division Series was over, "just to lose a game and fly all the way back. That's bad for our backs."

The Giants are back, and what transpired Tuesday night was both artful and ugly. The Giants did all the little, fundamental things it took to beat the Reds, 2-1, to extend their season and to silence a Great American Ball Park crowd that had come here to party.

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What they didn't do was hit. They became just the 17th team in history to win a postseason game on three hits or fewer -- the first since the Astros in Game 5 of the 2004 NLCS.

Ah, well, who needs hits when you've got heart? Or at least, that'll have to stand for the company line, for the time being.

Said Buster Posey of the offensive issues: "It's definitely less frustrating when we win."

Frustration, at this moment, rests with the Reds. The Johnny Cueto concern could have been saved for another postseason round, had they backed Homer Bailey's startlingly good start against these bumbling Giants bats.

Instead, the Giants have forced the Reds' hand, making them deal from the depths of the deck. Mike Leake or Mat Latos? The Giants left Great American Ball Park knowing they'd either be facing a guy who had a 5.27 ERA in the second half or a guy pitching on three days' rest. Maybe, the way they're swinging, the exact arm didn't really matter. But what mattered in the here and now was that the Giants found a way to push two runs across in spite of themselves.

"I think we have to be really happy that we came away with this win tonight," Posey said, "because we didn't swing the bats very well at all."

Neither, for that matter, did the Reds, and that's where Ryan Vogelsong and a punishing Giants 'pen get a lot of credit.

Consider this an extension -- maybe even an illustration -- of Vogelsong's long, strange story. There have been many times over the years when the 35-year-old Vogelsong's Major League outlook appeared to be on life support, and there were moments early in his first postseason start in which the Reds looked prime to pounce.

Vogelsong, though, is a scrapper. We've seen this in his career revival after a jaunt in Japan, and we saw it again in Game 3. He found trouble immediately, in the form of Brandon Phillips' leadoff single. But Phillips ran himself right off the bases, and so the walk and two hits Vogelsong went on to surrender cost him one run, not multiple.

And from that point, it was an effective, if not all that efficient, foray through the fifth. It wasn't the kind of performance you tell your grandkids about, but it was exactly the kind of performance the Giants had hoped for.

"It saved us," manager Bruce Bochy said.

So did the defensive effort, which was sharp all night. So did the bullpen, which was stingy all night. And so did the hustle, which was evident all night.

"There is no lack of belief on this team," reliever Sergio Romo said. "We believe in ourselves, and we go out there and play hard."

Romo was part of a relief effort in which the Giants allowed but a single hit over the final five innings. Bochy pulled the switches the way he has all year in this season sans Brian Wilson -- going to the arm he trusts most in that specific situation, regardless of inning. Affeldt has been primarily a seventh- or eighth-inning setup man, but, on this night, he was summoned in the sixth. Three members of the committee of "closers" -- Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Romo -- came out in that order.

"A lot of times," Affeldt explained, "[Bochy] will manage by gut."

The Giants didn't need to listen to their guts to know the significance of this game. Unlike the 2010 World Series championship team, this one ran away with its division. Also unlike that 2010 team, which won every Game 1, this one found itself in a must-win situation in the postseason.

"We're backed in a corner," Affeldt said. "We don't have anything else but to scratch and claw."

They scratched out a run against Bailey without the benefit of a hit. And in the 10th, it was an advantageous effort. Posey singled, and so did Pence. But for Pence, the seemingly simple task of running to first looked painful, for he had tweaked his calf on an awkward swing earlier in the at-bat. By this point, Bochy had all but emptied his bench, with only reserve catcher Hector Sanchez remaining. Coming out was not an option for Pence, just as losing this game was not an option for the Giants.

They won it by applying the pressure elsewhere. With those two baserunners aboard, Ryan Hanigan couldn't handle Jonathan Broxton's four-seam fastball. The ball skipped away, and Posey skirted to third. The go-ahead run was pointed toward the plate.

"A lot of intensity," Joaquin Arias said.

Arias was up to bat, and he hit a tricky bouncer to Scott Rolen's left. The eight-time Gold Glove winner got in front of it, and then booted it, and Arias' hustle down the line beat out Rolen's throw as Posey motored home.

Romo closed it out, and suddenly the Giants -- their bats aside -- look pretty lively.

"That's what this is all about," Affeldt said. "Guys have to give it everything they've got, because there's no other choice. That's why the playoffs are so exciting for fans and exciting for teams. Because every guy has to grind it out. This is part of why postseason baseball is so good."

Even when it's bad for the back.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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