CINCINNATI — Not just any comeback would get San Francisco back to playing for a pennant. It would take one of Giant proportions.
And Buster Posey believed it could happen. Even after the Giants left the West Coast down two games, the National League batting champion insisted his team could pull it off, despite the long odds.
With one swing, he got everyone else believing it, too.
Posey hit the third grand slam in Giants’ postseason history on Thursday, and San Francisco pulled off an unprecedented revival, moving into the championship series with a 6-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
“You don’t want to be in a lose-and-you’re-out scenario,” reliever Jeremy Affeldt said, wearing a brace on his left wrist so he didn’t hurt it in the champagne-flavored clubhouse celebration. “We’ve been in that situation for three days. We’re probably going to sleep well tonight.”
They’ll play either Washington or St. Louis for the NL pennant, Sunday, not caring at all who they face.
“We could go up against anybody at any time,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “Being down 2-0 and coming back and winning three at their place, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Game 1 of the NL championship series will be Sunday, either in Washington against the Nationals or in San Francisco vs. the Cardinals. In the meantime, the Giants will stay in Cincinnati until their next opponent is determined Friday night when the Cards and Nats play Game 5.
The Giants became the first NL team to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the division series, which began in 1995. Major League Baseball’s changed playoff format this season allowed them to become the first to take a best-of-five by winning the last three on the road.
Posey’s second career grand slam off Mat Latos put the Giants up 6-0 in the fifth and sparked a joyous scrum in the San Francisco dugout. The ball smacked off the front of the upper deck in left field, just above Latos’ name on the video board.
For the first time in the series, the Giants could exhale.
“I don’t think anybody gave up,” Posey said.
Will Clark, in the 1989 NLCS, and Chuck Hiller, in the 1962 World Series, hit the other Giants slams in the postseason.
Matt Cain and the bullpen held on, with more help from Posey. The All-Star catcher threw out Jay Bruce at third base to snuff out a sixth-inning rally that cut it to 6-3. The Giants had a pair of diving catches that preserved the lead in the eighth.
There was more drama in the ninth. Ryan Ludwick singled home a run off Sergio Romo. With two runners aboard, Romo fanned Scott Rolen to end it.
The Giants raised their arms, hugged and huddled by the side of the mound, bouncing in unison.
“It was a spectacular moment,” outfielder Hunter Pence said.
ORIOLES 2, YANKEES 1: NEW YORK — With midnight approaching, the Baltimore Orioles’ bats awoke for one more improbable rally.
Now they have a last shot to finally overtake the New York Yankees.
J.J. Hardy hit an RBI double in the 13th inning and Baltimore bounced back from a demoralizing loss to outlast the Yankees 2-1 Thursday night, forcing a deciding Game 5 in the AL division series.
After splitting 22 games this year, it all comes down this: a winner-take-all game for a spot in the AL championship series.
Game 1 winner CC Sabathia was set to pitch the deciding game for the Yankees. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had not announced his starter.
The Orioles were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position until Hardy doubled off David Phelps with one out to score Manny Machado. Phelps had relieved in the 12th after Joba Chamberlain was hit by a flying broken bat, forcing him to leave with a bruised right elbow.
Jim Johnson bounced back from allowing Raul Ibanez’s pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning Wednesday to earn his second save in the series with a perfect 13th.
Hours after learning Joe Girardi had kept quiet that his father died last Saturday, the Yankees couldn’t rally late. This time, Girardi called upon Eric Chavez to pinch hit for slumping Alex Rodriguez. He lined out to third base to end it.
Baltimore’s win pushed all four division series to five games for the first time since the round began in 1995.
After dropping Game 1 , the Orioles rebounded with another one-run win in a season in which they had the best record in the majors in such games at 29-9. But they lost in stunning fashion in 12 innings Wednesday night, when Ibanez homered twice in his two at-bats after pinch-hitting for Rodriguez.
The team that caught the Yankees in September didn’t rattle, though.
They came right back Thursday for their first win in extras against the Yankees this year. They also lost twice to New York in extra innings before going on a run of 16 straight wins after the ninth inning.
It wasn’t easy, though. Nate McLouth homered off Phil Hughes to start the fifth, but Baltimore wasted three shots with a runner on third base in the first four innings. They struggled against New York’s bullpen.
NATIONALS 2, CARDINALS 1: WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth to show them how to win. His game-ending homer Thursday night extended their surprising season.
Werth led off the bottom of the ninth inning by driving Lance Lynn’s 13th pitch into the left-field stands to give the Nationals a 2-1 victory over the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and force a Game 5 in their NL division series.
As he circled the bases, Werth raised his right index finger in a “No. 1” gesture, while the announced crowd of 44,392 roared with delight. The other Nationals raced out of the dugout to greet Werth, who tossed his red batting helmet high in the air before jumping on home plate and being enveloped by a bouncing collection of thrilled teammates.
The best-of-five series will end Friday night in Washington, with the winner advancing to face the San Francisco Giants in the NL championship series.
The homer was Werth’s first with the Nationals but 14th of his career in the postseason. He won the 2008 World Series and a string of division titles with the Philadelphia Phillies before moving to Washington as a free agent before last season on a $126 million contract that stunned much of baseball.
He gets a ton of credit for helping steer a quick turnaround: The Nationals lost 100 games in 2008 and 2009, but led the majors with 98 wins and won their division this year.
Werth’s shot provided a sudden end to a classic postseason contest filled with tremendous pitching. Each team managed only three hits.
Lynn, usually a starter for St. Louis but a reliever in these playoffs, was making his third appearance of this series. He was the wild-card Cardinals’ third pitcher — and faced only one batter.
Cardinals batters made eight consecutive outs via strikeout against three Nationals pitchers: Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, who threw the top of the ninth and got the win.
Storen walked No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma, before getting pinch hitter Matt Carpenter out on a twisting, stumbling overhead catch by shortstop Ian Desmond, who wound up sliding on his belly in short left field. When Desmond rose, he threw the ball into the stands and yelled.
Moments later, Werth had all the red-clad, towel-twirling spectators yelling, too, thanks to the way he turned on a 96 mph fastball.