Cincinnati, OH – It's been 17 years since the Cincinnati Reds won either a playoff series or a postseason game at home.
The wait goes on.
Behind a big effort in relief from Tim Lincecum and an offensive power surge, the San Francisco Giants put Cincinnati's celebration plans on hold for a second straight day by registering an 8-3 decision in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, setting up a winner-take-all battle for the right to advance.
After mustering a mere four runs and batting .126 over the first three games, San Francisco broke out behind homers from Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco and Pablo Sandoval in following up Tuesday's season-saving 2-1, 10-inning win. Sandoval finished 3-for-4 with three RBI to lead the Giants' 11-hit outburst, with Pagan going 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored.
Lincecum (1-0) provided a lift as well, limiting the Reds to one run on two hits while striking out six without a walk over 4 1/3 excellent innings.
"We knew Timmy would play a critical role in the series like he did tonight," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "It's great to have. I love a man like this who has the talent he does, and part of it was Timmy buying into what we were doing and he said, 'I just want to do anything I can to help the ballclub win'.
Starter Barry Zito lasted just 2 2/3 frames for San Francisco, with the veteran lefty permitting two runs and four hits while issuing four walks.
Subbing for injured ace Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake (0-1) was tagged for five runs on six hits before being removed after 4 1/3 innings for the Reds.
Ryan Ludwick had a solo homer and Zack Cozart went 2-for-5 for a Cincinnati squad that's attempting to record its first playoff triumph at home since besting the Los Angeles Dodgers at then-Riverfront Stadium in Game 3 of the 1995 NLDS, the franchise's last victorious postseason series as well.
"We've got one game to turn it around," said Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. "It's win or go home, obviously."
The Giants will now try to become the first team in NLDS history to come back from a two-games-to-none deficit in Thursday's Game 5 at Great American Ball Park, with Matt Cain tabbed to start for San Francisco against the Reds' Mat Latos.
"I'm proud of how the guys have fought," said Bochy. "They have done a great job of bouncing back and getting to tomorrow's game, which the only way that happens is win(ning) the first two. These guys have found a way to do that."
Leake had been added to Cincinnati's roster earlier in the day, with Cueto unavailable due to an oblique strain that knocked the 19-game winner out of Saturday's Game 1 after only eight pitches. The young fill-in wasn't quite up to the task in his first career postseason outing, however.
Pagan socked his second pitch of the day into the right-field stands to quickly ignite San Francisco's previously sluggish offense, and Blanco -- who hadn't homered since July 18 -- stepped up after Hector Sanchez's infield single and launched a Leake fastball over the wall in right center to snap a 1-1 tie in the top of the second inning.
San Francisco would maintain a lead the rest of the way, despite an erratic Zito's early exit and a couple of attempts by the Reds to move in front.
Ludwick's solo homer to begin the bottom of the third brought Cincinnati within 3-2, and the Reds put forth a threat an inning later when singles by Leake and Cozart against reliever George Kontos put two men on with one out.
However, Jose Mijares came on to strike out Cincy slugger Joey Votto before Lincecum entered, with the two-time NL Cy Young winner proceeding to fan Ludwick to prevent any damage.
Back-to-back doubles by Joaquin Arias and Pagan to start the fifth extended San Francisco's margin back to two runs, with Pagan coming home on Sandoval's sacrifice fly for a 5-2 Giants' advantage.
"Three mistakes, really," said Leake of his performance. "Two of them were home runs, one was an RBI double. Other than that, I thought I threw the ball somewhat well."
The Reds slightly closed the gap when Drew Stubbs doubled off Lincecum to open the bottom of the sixth and eventually scored on a Brandon Phillips fly ball, but San Francisco countered with three runs in the top of the seventh to put the game out of reach.
Arias' second double of the game was later followed by Marco Scutaro's RBI two-bagger and Sandoval's mammoth blast off Jose Arredondo that gave the Giants a commanding 8-3 lead.
The Reds managed just two hits off Lincecum and reliever Santiago Casilla over their final three at-bats.
After being staked to a 1-0 edge on Pagan's homer, Zito retired the first two Cincinnati hitters before surrendering a single to Votto. He then walked Ludwick, Jay Bruce and Jeff Frazier in succession to force in a run, but was able to rebound and strike out Dioner Navarro looking to leave the bases loaded.
The Reds ended up stranding 10 baserunners for the game while going 0-for-7 with men in scoring position.
Since the three-round format was instituted in 1995, teams that have dropped the first two games of the NLDS have gone on to lose the series all 21 times ... Lincecum improved to 5-1 with a 2.28 ERA in eight career postseason games (5 starts, 3 relief appearances) ... Zito was making his first playoff start in exactly six years, having taken the mound for Oakland in Game 1 of the ALCS against Detroit on Oct. 10, 2006.