The sudden departure of the Reds ace with one out in the first inning Saturday left the game wide open, though seemingly in the hands of the Giants and their ace, Matt Cain. But Sam LeCure emerged from the Reds bullpen to hold the Giants in check for 1 2/3 innings, giving Mat Latos enough time to loosen up before he mostly stymied the Giants offense for four innings. San Francisco dropped the National League Division Series opener, 5-2, unable to capitalize on the Reds bullpen, an emergency pitcher and a rather fortuitous situation.
"For sure it [was] a big opportunity for us," Gregor Blanco said of Cueto's early departure. "We still knew that they have great pitchers and they have a great bullpen. We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but, for sure, not facing Cueto is better. But I think they did a great job and that's why they got the win."
And though the Giants were spared having to battle against Cueto, who ranked third in the NL with a 2.78 ERA this season, they dismissed the notion that the game became theirs to win when Cueto walked off the mound.
"It's going to be a grind," Hunter Pence said. "They still had a great pitcher and a great bullpen. We still have a lot of series left. They made some plays and they got some breaks. We hit the ball hard, line drives right at people. We'll have to learn from it and move forward to tomorrow."
"You know what, I don't think anyone takes anything for granted regardless," Buster Posey said. "They've got good arms, so we just have to go out and scrap and claw no matter who it is."
And on a night that began with a fortunate break in their favor, the Giants weren't able to take advantage of the few opportunities that followed in the game. The Giants were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, with most of their hardest hits ending up as outs.
Pence blasted two balls that may have been home runs in any other ballpark, but both fell harmlessly into the waiting gloves of Reds outfielders.
"Honestly, the second one I hit it as good as I could hit it," Pence said of an eighth-inning fly ball to right that followed a sixth-inning shot to the center-field track, both victims of the spacious outfield and thick San Francisco air. "On both of them I caught the sweet spot of the barrel. Second one, I think it was just heavy air. I hit that ball good, but that's just part of this park."
After Brandon Crawford was intentionally walked in the second to load the bases with two outs, Cain made sharp contact on LeCure's first-pitch slider, only to line out to Jay Bruce in right field.
Pence was doubled off at first in the fourth when Brandon Belt drilled a ball right at Reds first baseman Joey Votto.
"That's baseball," Pence said. "We hit some balls hard, and right at them. They got those breaks -- Belt's ball, Cain's ball. But that's baseball. You're going to get some to fall in, too, and I feel like we played a pretty good game today. We have to come back tomorrow for a big game and find a way to win."
The Giants also threatened in the bottom of the ninth, but weren't able to mount enough of a comeback despite getting Joaquin Arias and Xavier Nady on to start the inning with no outs and the top of the order coming up behind them.
"This team is resilient, and we have all the faith in the world in us," Pence said. "We're going to go out there and battle and compete. Just that last inning, we got real close to getting back in it. So we're going to fight and get ready for tomorrow."
Jay Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.