Barry Zito was left off the postseason roster during San Francisco's run to a World Series title two years ago. Thanks to a strong finish to this season, he'll get a chance to help the Giants stay alive in these playoffs.
In his first postseason game in exactly six years, the veteran left-hander will seek to force a decisive game in the NL division series with another strong outing against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.
Opposing Zito will be Mike Leake , who was added to the playoff roster Wednesday morning to replace Johnny Cueto . It was believed Cueto might start this game after being limited to eight pitches in the series opener due to pulled muscles in his side. However, the 19-game winner apparently is not fully recovered and now is ineligible to pitch in the NL championship series if the Reds get that far.
For San Francisco to keep alive its chances of advancing, it may need a big performance from Zito.
Before this season, it seemed the Giants might reap few benefits from their seven-year, $126 million contract for Zito, who won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award while with Oakland. In his first five seasons with the club, the left-hander was 43-61 with a 4.55 ERA and hadn't won more than 11 games in any campaign, including a 9-14 finish in 2010.
That changed this year as he won 15 games, his most since his final season with the A's in 2006. Zito also finished the regular season on a seven-game win streak and was 5-0 with a 2.35 ERA over his final five outings.
"The last month of the season was great. Just personally I've been able to stay focused and make my pitches and not let things go fast around me," he said. "When the game goes fast is when we have problems out there, keep my focus, pitch‑to‑pitch has been productive and it's what I look to do tomorrow night."
With those efforts, Zito beat out two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum for a spot in the Giants' playoff rotation. His start will mark his first postseason appearance since a 5-1 loss in Oakland's AL championship series opener against Detroit on Oct. 10, 2006. He's 4-3 with a 3.25 ERA in seven playoff outings.
"It feels great because being a player in the major leagues we want to help our team the best we can. It was tough in 2010 watching the boys go all the way and not being able to help out with that. So part of the team camaraderie is wanting to contribute," Zito said.
The Giants have won the past 11 games in which Zito has pitched but have lost in each of his last four appearances against the Reds. He did his part in two matchups this season by allowing one run and five hits over six innings in each but only got a combined two runs of support.
The Giants don't appear poised to give Zito much help again as they've scored four runs over the three games of this series and are batting .126. They've also failed to generate early hits in the last two contests but managed to stave off elimination Tuesday with a 2-1 win in 10 innings.
After getting shut out in Game 2, San Francisco didn't get its first hit Tuesday until two outs in the sixth inning. The Giants, though, did enough to keep the Reds at bay and Buster Posey scored the go-ahead run when Cincinnati third baseman Scott Rolen , an eight-time Gold Glove winner, mishandled Joaquin Arias ' two-out grounder.
"I think we have to be really happy that we came away with this win tonight because we didn't swing the bats very well at all," Posey said.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is seeking its first home win in the postseason since 1995 - also the last year it reached the NLCS.
Leake could help end that drought. He was 8-9 with a 4.58 ERA in 30 starts this year, including 4-2 with a 2.99 ERA in his last 11 on the road. The right-hander last pitched Sept. 29, throwing six scoreless innings at Pittsburgh.
He's 3-0 with a 0.77 ERA over his last three starts against the Giants and gave up one run and nine hits during a complete-game victory June 29 in San Francisco.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Angel Pagan connects on the second pitch of the game. A Giants team that finished last in homers goes on to hit three. Tim Lincecum pitches like a two-time Cy Young winner - this time, out of the bullpen.
So many unusual things moved San Francisco to the verge of an unprecedented comeback.
Pagan hit the first leadoff homer in Giants postseason history, and Gregor Blanco and Pablo Sandoval connected later for an 8-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday that evened their NL division series at 2-all.
No team has recovered from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series by winning three on the road, according to STATS LLC. This one can do it with a victory on Thursday at Great American Ball Park.
"Thanks to the win today, there will be a tomorrow," Pagan said. "And we are ready for that."
Matt Cain , who lost the series opener and has yet to beat the Reds in three tries this season, will start Game 5 against Mat Latos .
Facing elimination, the Giants' slumping hitters came out swinging and extended Cincinnati's playoff misery. The Reds haven't won a postseason game at home in 17 years.
One thing in the Reds' favor - they haven't dropped three straight at home all season.
"I'd like to think that we still have the advantage," Reds outfielder Jay Bruce said. "We're at home. I expect Mat to come up with a big game. I'm looking forward to it."
So are the Giants, who were down after losing the first two games at home while getting outscored 14-2. They were barely able to get a hit, let alone a win.
The pressure pulled them closer. Hunter Pence gathered them for inspirational speeches before the two games in Cincinnati, challenging them to play like champions.
"We feel good," NL batting champion Buster Posey said. "When you're down 0-2 you see what you're made of. We're not done."
It wasn't all about the offense. San Francisco's overlooked Cy Young winner played a starring role, too.
Lincecum was relegated to the bullpen for the playoff series because of his dreary season - 15 losses, 17 wild pitches. He entered in the fourth inning, pitched out of a threat that kept the Giants up 3-2, and kept going. The right-hander struck out six while allowing just one run in 4 1-3 innings.
"I knew he would play a huge role in this," manager Bruce Bochy said. "And I know of other situations where starters have been in the `pen and really done a great job to help their team win. We knew Timmy would play a critical role in the series like he did tonight."
The Reds were hoping to start ace Johnny Cueto , but had to drop him off the roster a few hours before Wednesday's first pitch because he was still bothered by a strained muscle in his right side. He won't be available if Cincinnati wins Game 5 and reaches the NL championship series.
The way the Giants have started hitting, that's now in doubt.
San Francisco managed only four runs in the first three games of the series. The Giants avoided the sweep by pulling out a 2-1 win in 10 innings on Tuesday night with the help of a passed ball and an error by third baseman Scott Rolen .
They broke out against Mike Leake , who replaced Cueto and had a rough time. Leake threw his first career complete game in San Francisco on June 29 and was 3-0 career against the Giants.
Pagan homered to start it off for the Giants. Blanco hit a two-run shot in the second. The Giants had another breakthrough in the fifth, when back-to-back doubles by Joaquin Arias and Pagan ended an 0-for-14 slump with runners in scoring position during the series.
Sandoval's two-run shot in the seventh made it 8-3, matched the Giants' season high for homers and drew loud boos from the crowd of 44,375 - the third-largest at Great American Ball Park. Fans quietly settled into their seats and used their white rally towels as lap warmers against the evening chill.
The Giants normally don't hit many homers - only 103 during the season, fewest in the majors. They're only the seventh team since 1900 to reach the playoffs after finishing last in the majors in homers.
While the offense went to work, Lincecum bailed out the bullpen.
Bochy didn't hesitate to put the guys he wanted on the mound, using four pitchers in the first four innings. Lincecum settled things down, giving up only two hits in his second relief appearance of the series.
He threw 42 strikes out of 55 pitches and even batted twice - just like a starter.
"The last two games, it's been about scratching and leaving it on the field," Lincecum said.
Bochy decided to go with left-hander Barry Zito over Lincecum for Game 4 because he was better down the stretch. Zito was left off the postseason roster when San Francisco won the World Series in 2010, but finished the regular season with seven straight wins.
The left-hander lasted only 2 2-3 innings, his shortest career outing in the postseason. On came Lincecum to save the day.
The Reds finished with the second-best record in the majors at 97-65, one game behind Washington. The rotation was the foundation of their championship season, with all five starters making it through healthy - a franchise first.
Things changed dramatically when Cueto had to leave the first inning of the playoff series opener on Saturday with the injury. The Reds made it through that game with Latos filling in for a 5-2 victory, but couldn't win without him on Wednesday.
NOTES: The Reds honored RHP Homer Bailey on the field before the game for his no-hitter in Pittsburgh on Sept. 28, presenting him and C Ryan Hanigan with framed photo montages. ... It was Zito's shortest outing since he lasted 2 1-3 innings on Aug. 29 at Houston. The Giants won it 6-4. ... San Francisco has won each of Zito's last 12 starts. ... Leake lasted 4 1-3 innings, giving up six hits and five runs. ... The Giants hit three homers in a game eight times during the regular season.
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