SAN FRANCISCO — Eight pitches into his start, Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto was in pain, and the Reds’ playoff hopes were hurting, too.
Cueto, the Reds’ ace and a 19-game winner in 2012, was out of the game practically before anyone knew what had happened. It was a huge gift to the Giants, one that should have tilted the contest, and perhaps the entire National League Division Series. They failed to take advantage, losing 5-2 to the inspired Reds to dig a deep hole for themselves as they try to resurrect the magic of 2010.
After eight pitches, in the middle of an at-bat by Marco Scutaro, Cueto began pacing around the mound area in obvious pain. Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker came out to investigate, and his starter trudged to the dugout, to the wonderment of Giants fans.
Afterward, Baker explained that Cueto had felt the first twinge while warming up before the game. He made it worse when he stopped his delivery midstream while pitching to leadoff hitter Angel Pagan, who had stepped out of the batter’s box. And it really flared up during Scutaro’s at-bat, sending Cueto to the showers.
“That was a little bit of a curveball, for both teams,” Giants right fielder Hunter Pence said. “It’s unfortunate that Cueto got hurt. He’s a great pitcher. ... I hope he’s all right.”
The Reds’ entire postseason pitching strategy might have gone into spasm at that moment, but the team adjusted smoothly on the fly. If the Cincinnati relief pitching was heroic Saturday, no one should have been surprised. This was the best bullpen in the major leagues this year, with 56 saves, an ERA of 2.65 and an opponents’ batting average of .219.
Long reliever Sam LeCure finished the first inning and threw the second, buying time for Mat Latos — who had been scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Cincinnati. It was the first relief appearance of Latos’ career, and he went four solid innings, giving up a single run.