Baker is back in the Bay Area for the playoffs, 10 years after he came so close to winning a World Series with San Francisco."Well, I really don't have much choice," Baker said when asked if it's a strange coincidence. "I feel comfortable here. I think my team likes coming here. This is a good town."
Sometimes Baker still feels the sting of that World Series near-miss, even now, two managerial stops removed from his first career gig as a skipper in the place he has long called home.On Saturday, he figures to be cheered by 40,000-plus fans at AT&T Park who still love him - "some of `em," he quipped - when the NL Central champion Reds open their best-of-five division series against the Giants, who like Cincinnati clinched early and had plenty of time to get everything situated and lined up for the postseason. "I'll be honest, I like this clinching early thing," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy , whose 2010 World Series championship team clinched in Game 162.
These days, the 63-year-old Baker is conserving energy after a recent 11-game absence forced by a mini-stroke and irregular heartbeat. He just rejoined the Reds on Monday in St. Louis. Baker was away for the NL Central clincher, and Homer Bailey 's no-hitter at Pittsburgh last Friday night.
He's ready to go now - with no plans to change a thing about the way he operates during a game on the playoff stage."I'm feeling like a grateful man," Baker said from his spot at the cage on a sunny fall afternoon in the Giants' waterfront ballpark.
Cincinnati's 19-game winner Johnny Cueto takes the ball in Game 1 on Saturday night.
Matt Cain (16-5) pitches the opener for the Giants with plenty of postseason cred to fall back on: The three-time All-Star didn't surrender an earned run during his team's improbable title run two years ago. He went 2-0 in three starts and 21 1-3 innings, struck out 13 and walked seven.
Cain won his final six regular-season decisions and struck out 193 batters in 219 1-3 innings this season. The right-hander hasn't lost in 10 starts since Aug. 6 at St. Louis.
He earned himself a new $127.5 million, six-year contract before the season as he'd so hoped, then backed that up by tossing the first perfect game in franchise history June 13 against the Houston Astros ."This group has been together since the beginning and we all had the thought that this is where we wanted to be in spring training," Cain said.
The Barry Bonds -led Giants fell six outs short of a World Series title in Game 6 against the wild-card Angels, then lost Game 7. And Baker was gone shortly thereafter, off to the Windy City for the daunting challenge of managing the Chicago Cubs .Nobody will forget that terrifying moment when Baker's then-3 1/2-year-old son, Darren, wandered into a play at the plate and almost got run over in Game 5 at AT&T Park. That led to the "Darren Baker" bat-boy rule as it became known - no toddlers working as bat boys, and a new age requirement of 14."Sometimes it stings at me, but you've got to leave it in the past," Baker said. "You can't live in the future and stay in the past. But I'm still here. I have an opportunity to win a championship here, and it lets you know exactly that time never stops. Time goes very quickly. Doesn't seem like 10 years ago, doesn't seem like 10 years ago my boy was 3 years old, being pulled off the mound. It lets me know that I'm getting older."
Two years ago, the Giants finally captured the city's first baseball championship since the franchise came West from New York in 1958. Two years ago, Baker's Reds won the division and were swept right out of October by the Phillies and even got no-hit by Roy Halladay in the process.
Everybody involved knows these games could be interesting for a pair of clubs comfortable in close games - three of this season's seven meetings were decided by one run."It's going to be really electric, really emotional," Giants center fielder and leadoff man Angel Pagan said.
Baker may still be returning to his former energetic self, but you wouldn't know it by his quick wit and good-natured approach to everything and everybody.
That is what made it so hard on everyone in San Francisco when he departed on difficult terms with former managing partner Peter Magowan that fall of 2002. Yet Baker certainly will be given his due Saturday."We'll see if they still love me on Sunday if we start off 2-0," he joked with a smile.Sticking to a healthy diet designed by grown daughter Natosha and wife Melissa, Baker went out for dinner Thursday night "with a couple of my home boys I grew up with" and ordered tomato soup, tomato salad and fish. He was headed for Filipino food Friday."He's in really good spirits and good health," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "He had a little scare. He's back stronger and better than ever - we're very fortunate."
Baker feels so good, in fact, he plans to manage again in 2013. Right now, he has an unsettled contract situation, but points out that's nothing new to him. Throughout his recent ordeal, Baker pondered that maybe his best option is to stay put right where he is - if the Reds will keep him around."This is about the 10th time I've been through this," he said. "The only thing that's in my control is to win ballgames, and God is always taking care of me."
Even Jocketty sees the significance as Baker returns to the place where he started as a manager. The place he was honored earlier this summer during the Reds' trip to San Francisco, as part of a tribute to the '02 team."It is kind of ironic," Jocketty said. "I know he's excited about being here and being part of this. He feels very confident about our club. He thinks this is our year, and I think he's right."
|September 19, 2012||Aroldis Chapman||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder fatigue|
|September 19, 2012||Ryan Ludwick||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin tightness|
|September 08, 2012||Zack Cozart||Day-to-Day||Strained left oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Kristopher Negron||15-Day DL||Torn right ACL - out for season|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|August 01, 2012||Wilson Valdez||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff neck|
|San Francisco Giants|
|September 06, 2012||Xavier Nady||Day-to-Day||Strained left hamstring|
|August 27, 2012||Clay Hensley||15-Day DL||Strained right groin|
|August 27, 2012||Clay Hensley||15-Day DL||Strained right groin|
|August 23, 2012||Justin Christian||15-Day DL||Sprained left wrist|
|August 23, 2012||Justin Christian||15-Day DL||Sprained left wrist|
|August 22, 2012||Buster Posey||Day-to-Day||Hamstring tightness|
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Brandon Phillips still sees the highlights of his weak grounder for the final out in Roy Halladay 's no-hitter of the Cincinnati Reds in an embarrassing playoff opener two years ago.
Now, Phillips and the Reds have their own memorable winning playoff moment. After losing their ace, no less.
Sam LeCure , Mat Latos and three other pitchers shut down San Francisco after Johnny Cueto went out in the first inning with a back injury, and Cincinnati was powered by home runs from Phillips and Jay Bruce to beat the Giants 5-2 in Game 1 of the NL division series Saturday night.
Phillips hit a two-run homer in the third, and Bruce added a solo drive leading off the fourth as the Reds overcame the departure of their 19-game winner after just eight pitches.
Phillips added an RBI single in the ninth for his third hit and the Reds scored another on a passed ball. This one takes some of the sting out of that short-lived 2010 run.
"I still see it now. They always show it on TV. They show me on TV making the last out, and it kind of (stinks)," Phillips said. "But honestly I'm glad it did happen."
Aroldis Chapman gave up a run in the ninth on a wild pitch but struck out Buster Posey with a 100 mph fastball to end it with runners on second and third.
San Francisco's Matt Cain allowed his first career postseason earned runs after going untouched during the Giants' improbable World Series season of 2010.
That same year, Cincinnati was swept out of the first round by the Phillies after getting no-hit by Halladay. This time, the Reds clobbered Cain and played on with poise when Cueto got hurt.
"The pitch to Bruce wasn't too terrible but the hanging breaking ball to Phillips is just something that you don't want to happen in a big-game situation like this," Cain said.
Reds skipper Dusty Baker earned an emotional win in his return to AT&T Park for the playoffs 10 years after managing the Giants within six outs of a World Series title before losing to the wild-card Angels. He's also back on the top step of the dugout after rejoining the team this week following an 11-game absence while recovering from a mini-stroke and irregular heartbeat.
Game 2 is Sunday night, with right-hander Bronson Arroyo (12-10) taking the ball for the Reds against San Francisco lefty Madison Bumgarner (16-11).
LeCure did his part to calm the team.
The right-hander earned the win with 1 2-3 innings before Baker turned to 14-game winner Mat Latos , who appeared unfazed at being forced into early duty on three days' rest. He allowed a home run to Posey during his four innings, but San Francisco managed little else against one of baseball's best bullpens.
"We were just fortunate to win that game, like the way we did tonight, and you got to give big props to Latos," Baker said. "Here is a guy sitting back, relaxed, thinking he was going to pitch next week at home and now all of the sudden, boom, this is his first playoff game. It was a great feat by him."
Latos - a longtime Giants nemesis during his Padres days - threw a 20-pitch bullpen session before the game. When pitching coach Bryan Price checked with Latos, he made it clear he could go, then went up to the clubhouse to grab his spikes. He came in to boos from all directions.
"I felt real comfortable. It's a team I've pitched well against and I've pitched against a lot," Latos said. "I'm glad I got the loudest boo. It's been weak for the last couple years."
The Reds set a club record this year as all five starters made it through the season without getting injured - and they used their sixth starter for a doubleheader.
Other Cincinnati clubs might not have had it in them to withstand losing a starter like Cueto. The Reds have had a tough go come playoff time.
But Baker has long been confident in the "fight" of this bunch, which already dealt with losing Ryan Madson and two other relievers before the season started.
The 63-year-old Baker was greeted by a rousing ovation during pregame introductions from an orange-towel-waving sellout crowd of 43,492. The main center field scoreboard read "WELCOME BACK DUSTY GREAT TO SEE YOU BACK IN THE DUGOUT."
Baker has vowed this team is something special - "They love each other and they hang together," he said.
The Reds had dropped seven straight playoff games dating to 1995, when now-Nationals manager Davey Johnson and Cincinnati were swept in the NL championship series by Atlanta.
"I swear, I don't know any of these numbers," Baker said when it came up before the game. "You can't do anything about the last 17 years, whatever it is."
Latos began the third, working in relief for the first time since the minors, after pitching five innings Tuesday at St. Louis. While he had been set to go Game 3 on Tuesday in Cincinnati, the Reds said Cueto is day to day and certainly are hoping he'll be ready later this series.
"He didn't give us any sense of doubt he could do it," Price said of Latos.
Posey homered to left leading off the sixth for San Francisco, drawing cheers of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" for the NL batting champion. It was his second career postseason home run and gave him a six-game postseason hitting streak dating to his 2010 Rookie of the Year season.
Cain was left to watch at that point, and he hardly looked happy visiting with manager Bruce Bochy in the dugout after being pulled before the bottom of the fifth for George Kontos .
The right-hander went 23 1-3 postseason innings without allowing an earned run, fifth-longest in major league history.
But two of Cain's five defeats this season were lopsided losses against the Reds - 9-2 and 5-0 - in which he allowed a total of four home runs, eight earned runs and 16 hits in 13 innings.
He had everything in his favor, pitching from the very mound where he tossed the first perfect game in franchise history June 13 against the Astros. He won his final six decisions of the regular season dating to a loss at St. Louis on Aug. 6.
The Reds survived third baseman Scott Rolen 's throwing error that allowed Hunter Pence to reach starting the fourth. Brandon Belt lined into a double play moments later and Latos got out unscathed.
Chapman put runners on first and second in the ninth and Baker paid him a visit. One out later he walked Marco Scutaro before the Giants scored on a wild pitch. Posey struck out to end it.
Now, the Reds hope to get Cueto back later this series.
The right-hander threw a second strike to No. 2 hitter Scutaro and walked off the mound in obvious pain. A trainer and Baker rushed out to check on him, and Cueto came out moments later.
He retired leadoff man Angel Pagan on a strikeout. During the at-bat, Pagan stepped out of the batter's box and was granted time. Cueto apparently didn't see it and continued his motion. But Baker said Cueto had felt some discomfort before the game and was alerted by Price.
He threw eight pitches and six strikes for the earliest postseason exit by a starter since Atlanta's John Thomson lasted one-third of an inning in Game 3 of a 2004 NL division series against Houston. Thomson came out with a sore muscle in his left side.
"You hated to see anybody lose their starter, but they brought in a good one, too," Bochy said.
NOTES: Bruce is .533 (8 for 15) lifetime vs. Cain. ... San Francisco won Game 1 in each of its 2010 series - the division series against Atlanta, NLCS vs. Philadelphia and the World Series against the Rangers. ... The franchises faced each other in the playoffs for the first time.