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Game 1 NLDS, Reds 5, Giants 2: The Difference

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I was in my bleacher seats tonight, barely settled in with an Iron Cactus burrito and a cold Anchor Steam fighting for supremacy in my belly, when Johnny Cueto's back sproinged in the first inning and the crowd let out a lusty hurrah. 

Bad form. Maybe they weren't paying attention and thought Dusty Baker was making a clever pitching change. More likely, they were tools. If you're reading this, and you cheered Johnny Cueto's ouchie, shame on you. 

But I'm not here to scold, although you might want me to scold Santiago Casilla. He threw some forehead-slapping pitches in the crucial 9th inning, but I'm not going to bitch too much. Those two runs he surrendered were aided and abetted by a pop-up that somebody should have caught but instead prolonged the inning, and a weird passed ball. 

I certainly can't blame Matt Cain. He wasn't feeling his freshest, but he's not going to be Matt Cain every time out. I gnashed my teeth at Bruce Bochy's decision to throw Guillermo Mota into the game, at that point 3-1 Reds, in the 7th, but the Giants were none the worse for it. 

The game boiled down to this: The Giants hit at least five balls extremely hard, most with runners on base, and none landed for hits.

1) Matt Cain, 2nd inning, hit a screamer toward the right-field wall with two outs and the bases loaded. Jay Bruce sprinted back and catches it over his head. It would have been a bases-clearing double. 

2) Brandon Belt, 4th inning, lined one to Joey Votto that Votto turned into an unassisted double play. It likely would have set up a first-and-third, one-out situation. 

3) Hunter Pence, 6th inning, hit one to the warning track in center. 

4) Marco Scutaro, 7th, lined one over left fielder Ryan Ludwick's head. Ludwick ran and jumped and twisted and somehow came down with it. 

5) Hunter Pence again, 8th inning, hit one into the notch where the right-field wall does a wiggle, about 365 feet deep. Bruce caught it on the warning track. It would have tied the game. 

And those are just the balls in play. In the bottom of the 9th, when Aroldis Chapman suddenly looked like he was auditioning for the one-man Off-Off-Broadway play "They Call Me Ankiel," both Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey came to the plate representing the tying run. Both hitters fouled 243-MPH fastballs straight back -- I think Pablo had two and Buster one, if I remember correctly. I mean, missed them by this much. Why, we said in the bleachers? Why not three-quarters of an inch lower on the bat? Why couldn't the Giants have at least tied this game up? Why did it have to be this way? 

In part because the Reds played nice D, but not entirely. Though Brandon Phillips, whose swing looks totally locked in -- if you'll permit me an aside -- also made one of the best defensive plays I've ever seen. When Gregor Blanco bunted for a hit in the 6th, Scott Rolen threw it past first base. It was going to be an extra base, maybe two. But Phillips, backing up the play, dived to stop the ball just past the coaching box. Blanco had to stay at first with one out. He never scored, and might not have anyway, but if he were at third, the Reds might have played the infield back, Brandon Crawford might have grounded out to score Blanco, and the score might have been 3-2. 

But back to the question of the night: Why? Because baseball, that's why. The Giants hit balls hard all night, even a home run (at home!), had great swings on pitches from nasty pitchers, and scored two runs. The Reds hit two home runs, one with a man on base. That's basically it. That's the difference. Over 162 games, these things often even themselves out. In a best-of-five series, it ain't necessarily so.

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