Homer Bailey can punch Cincinnati's ticket to the National League Championship Series on Tuesday, as the Reds try to complete a three- game sweep of the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ball Park.
Cincinnati has won the first two games of the best-of-five NLDS in San Francisco and is on the cusp of securing its first NLCS berth since getting swept by Atlanta in 1995.
"You're not comfortable at all until it's over," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We've been there before -- it's hard to take the last breath out of anything, and that is [the Giants'] last breath, and they're trying to get a hold, win Game 3, then Game 4, and it's back to even. So we're trying to stop it from getting back to even [and giving them] any kind of momentum."
There was some early speculation that ace Johnny Cueto could be the one making this start after he left his Game 1 appearance after just one-third of an inning with a back injury, but Baker doesn't want to push the issue.
"You can't take a chance with Johnny, and we have to see exactly ... we can't have him go out there again and have something else happen to him and come up short again," Baker said. "When he goes back out there, we will make sure to the best of your knowledge that he's OK."
So, it will be Bailey, who tossed a no-hitter just two starts ago.
Bailey's no-no was just the icing on the cake of a season that saw him post career-bests in starts (33), wins (13), innings (208), strikeouts (168) and ERA (3.68).
"You know, people take different paths to the top and everybody's path isn't the same," Baker said. "This is the healthiest Homer has been this year. Homer has had something the last three or four years that has prevented him from going the whole year, but he just threw a no-hitter last month, and we feel he's on the way. We think he found what he needs in order to work out and in order to stay healthy. Once you find yourself -- like, everybody doesn't find themselves at the same time. He's on the way."
Bailey's season was highlighted by the 16th no-hitter in team history on Sept. 28 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In five starts versus the Giants, Bailey has posted a 1-0 mark to go along with a 5.59 ERA. However, he has surrendered 19 runs in 29 innings of those outings.
Sam Francisco will counter with right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, rather than two- time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and former AL Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito.
Vogelsong earned this start, though, and was 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA.
"Really, if you look at how consistent he has been for the most part this year ... I think he's earned this and that's how we arrived at this," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Vogelsong.
Vogelsong, though, struggled in August (6.32 ERA) and September (6.46), but he recovered to pitch well in his last three starts, allowing one earned run over 17 innings.
"He had a hiccup for three or four starts, but his last two starts he's gotten back on track and thrown the ball well," Bochy said.
After Brandon Phillips' home run set the tone in their Game 1 win over the Giants, the Reds got a terrific pitching performance from Bronson Arroyo on Sunday in a 9-0 rout.
Arroyo spun seven innings of one-hit ball, struck out four and walked just one to earn his first career postseason victory.
"It's amazing to go out there deep in the ballgame, get an opportunity to kind of do what you do in your craft and have it work out the way it did," Arroyo said.
Pablo Sandoval had the lone extra-base hit for San Francisco, which now looks to become the first NL team in Division Series history to rally from an 0-2 deficit to win the series.
"We know where we're at right now and our backs are to the wall," Giants manager Bruce Bochy admitted. "We have to come out and be ready to play once we get to Cincinnati."
History appears to be on the side of the Reds.
Since Division Series play began in 1995, the team going up 2-0 has advanced 38 of 42 times, or 90 percent of the time. Only four teams have come back from that deficit, the most recent being the 2003 Boston Red Sox vs. the Oakland A's. The others are the 2001 New York Yankees vs. Oakland, the 1999 Red Sox vs. Cleveland and the 1995 Seattle Mariners vs. the Yankees.
None of them, though, had to win three consecutive road games to do it. And it has never happened in the NL.
Cincinnati won four of its seven regular season matchups with the Giants this past season.