"We've got one game to turn it around," Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. "It's win or go home, obviously. There's no question. There's no wondering. It's pretty simple."
It's a feeling the Giants have had for three days already, and now the Reds' sudden slide has put them in the same position. There will be a deciding Game 5 finale at Great American Ball Park on Thursday (1 p.m. ET on TBS), with the winner advancing to the NL Championship Series.
"It's probably hard for them to believe that we were up 2-0 out there," said Reds manager Dusty Baker, whose teams are 1-8 in games where they can close out a series. "So they reversed on us what we did to them out there, and we have a big game, the rubber match, tomorrow. If we win tomorrow, it doesn't matter how many games you were up. They're a quality team, and we knew it was going to be a fight when we got here."
There were a few areas on Wednesday where the game went poorly for the Reds. But it started with the starting pitcher.
Added to the NLDS roster to replace the injured Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake did not step up with a savior-like spot start as Cincinnati had hoped. Leake gave up five runs and six hits, including two home runs, over 4 1/3 innings and left trailing by a 5-2 score.
As 44,375 fans looked on, they were rendered almost catatonic right at the start when Angel Pagan hit Leake's second pitch of the game for a no-doubter of a home run to right field.
"I would have liked to do a little bit better, but unfortunately I didn't," Leake said. "They were putting good swings, but I think mainly it was me missing my spots and them taking advantage of it."
For the second day in a row, the Reds' fortunes were essentially cast by a failure to take better advantage of chances in the first inning.
In the bottom half, Giants starter Barry Zito was having trouble locating. Zito gave up Joey Votto's two-out single and three straight walks, including one to Todd Frazier that forced home a run.
Zito escaped and struck out Dioner Navarro with an 0-2 curveball.
"We started a little run there," Frazier said. "[Zito] wasn't finding his pitches, but at the same time, he came up big in that last at-bat to Navarro."
It was just the start of a long day for the Reds' lineup, which went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 men on base.
"Opportunities in the playoffs are sometimes few and far between," Bruce said. "You have to make the best of them. They got the timely hitting they needed, and we didn't."
The Giants struck quickly again in the second inning as second batter Gregor Blanco belted a two-run homer to right-center field for a 3-1 lead. In the bottom half, Zito gave up a pair of two-out singles but got Votto to fly out weakly to left field to end the inning.
In the bottom of the third, Ryan Ludwick's leadoff homer on Zito's 1-2 pitch closed the deficit to one run, his second of the NLDS. And after a two-out walk, Zito was given an early hook with 76 pitches in 2 2/3 innings.
After a leadoff infield hit by Zack Cozart against George Kontos in the fourth, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy stayed in survival mode by calling on a situational lefty, Jose Mijares, to face Votto. Mijares struck out Votto, who remained without an RBI in the series. Then Bochy turned the game over to Tim Lincecum, who struck out Ludwick to end the inning and begin a stretch of domination.
In the regular season and postseason combined, Ludwick is now 3-for-26 lifetime vs. Lincecum with 12 strikeouts.
"That was the difference in the game right there," Zito said. "I think we fed off the momentum after that."
The Giants had a stretch where eight of nine were retired by Leake, but they attacked in the fifth. After Joaquin Arias doubled to lead off the frame, Pagan lined an RBI double to right-center field, snapping the Giants' 0-for-14 series skid with runners in scoring position. Pablo Sandoval's sacrifice fly off reliever Sam LeCure made it a three-run game.
"Those couple of innings, and that one inning, it only took four pitches to double, hit, another double. So he wasn't real sharp," said Baker of Leake.
Drew Stubbs hit a leadoff double off of Lincecum in the sixth and later scored on Brandon Phillips' sacrifice fly. It was the only run scratched out against the ex-Giants ace as Lincecum rolled over 4 1/3 innings of work. Of his 55 pitches, 42 were thrown for strikes.
The game blew open on Reds reliever Jose Arredondo's watch, however, as the Giants used two doubles and a two-run home run by Sandoval to make it a five-run game.
What a reversal of fortune for a Reds team that allowed only 12 hits and four runs over the first three games. On Wednesday alone, the Giants belted out 11 hits, with eight going for extra bases.
"They've had their backs against the wall for two games now. Now it's our turn," Ludwick said. "We won two at their place, they've won two here, and it's turned out to be a good series. We're going into Game 5. It's all or nothing."
Since Division Series play began in 1995, a team with a 2-0 series lead advanced 38 of 42 times. The four exceptions were American League clubs, with the last being the 2003 Athletics. NL clubs with 2-0 NLDS leads were 21-0 in advancing.
Going Cincinnati's way, the Reds have not lost three games in a row this season at home, where they were 50-31. In Division Series history, only once has the road team won all of the games played on the road -- in 2010, when the Rangers bested the Rays. But that was in a 2-2-1 format, not the 2-3 format of this series.
Mat Latos, who pitched four superb innings of emergency in relief in Game 1, when Cueto was injured, will get the ball in Game 5 for Cincinnati against the Giants' Matt Cain.
It will be all hands on deck Thursday for both teams, but it will be the Reds who try to avoid a dubious distinction.
"I'd like to think we have the advantage," Bruce said. "It's our home field. We play well at home. We haven't the last two days. It will be answered tomorrow after the game."