CINCINNATI -- In a manner that seemed impossible only a few days ago, the Reds said goodbye to their season and hello to postseason infamy.
A disastrous six-run Giants fifth inning that featured Buster Posey's grand slam sent the Reds to a 6-4 Game 5 loss on Thursday to conclude the National League Division Series.
Posey's grand slam made it a 6-0 game before Cincinnati rallied to bring the tying run to the plate over each of the final four innings, including having the winning run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with one out.
"When Buster hit that grand slam, six runs is so difficult to come back from," exhausted Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "That we almost came back was pretty impressive. But Buster totally broke our back with that swing."
An eerily silent home clubhouse followed the loss with some players looking stunned and others somberly packing up their belongings at their lockers. Some hugged, and others just sat and stared.
Cincinnati will have this to live with during what is sure to be a very long and cold winter: Since Division Series became a regular part of the playoffs in 1995, no NL team in 21 previous times had ever blown a 2-0 lead in a series. It's now happened only five times out of 43 series.
Also stinging is the Reds were actually better than the Giants in many key statistical areas during the NLDS. They had a .261 team average compared to San Francisco's .194. The Reds outscored the Giants, 22-18, and had a better staff ERA, 3.13 to 4.11.
Only one thing counts when it's all over, however. Who won the series itself?
"A lot of people can be mad, of course," Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "We disappointed ourselves also. We wanted to do it for the city and also do it for ourselves."
After earning a 9-0 win to go up 2-0 in the series at AT&T Park, the Reds couldn't find big hits. They were 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position over the last three games and stranded 28 runners.
In a 2-3 playoff format, no team had ever won the first two games on the road and dropped the last three games at home. And in 10 postseason games with a chance to win a series, Reds manager Dusty Baker has a 1-9 record since Game 6 of the 2002 World Series.
"It hurts, big-time," Baker said. "I'm a strong man, and usually I get over hurts and it makes me stronger when I come back."
Or if he comes back. Baker's two-year contract expired, leaving immediate questions about his future.
Reds starter Mat Latos, who helped save the Reds from Game 1 trouble with a memorable relief stint after ace Johnny Cueto was injured, seemed primed for the task of a Game 5. Latos matched Giants ace Matt Cain for four scoreless innings. After two first-inning singles, Latos had a stretch where he retired 11 of 12, save for a two-out chopped infield hit by Hunter Pence in the fourth.
It all came apart on Latos in the top of the fifth. Gregor Blanco was down, 0-2, but led off with a single. The pitcher admittedly came unglued, leading to even worse trouble.
"The only thing I can really say is I let down everybody," said Latos, who allowed five earned runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. "I let down the team, most importantly, and the front office and the fans. I let things get to me."
Brandon Crawford hit a 2-0 pitch over the heart of the plate for a lined triple into the right-field corner and the game's first run. With one out and a drawn-in infield, Angel Pagan's grounder to shortstop Zack Cozart was bobbled. Cozart couldn't recover as Crawford scored.
Earlier in the game, home-plate umpire Tom Hallion seemed to have a generous strike zone with eight strikeouts combined for both pitchers over the first four innings. But as Latos threw a four-pitch walk to Marco Scutaro, he appeared flustered. The inning spiraled as Pablo Sandoval's grounded single into left field loaded the bases for Posey.
Latos' 2-2, 95-mph fastball was launched by Posey an estimated 434 feet into the second deck of the left-field bleachers. It was the first grand slam Latos has allowed during his career, and it made it a 6-0 game.
"I was a little anxious," Posey said. "I think I chased that 2-1 fastball that was out of the zone. I just told myself to slow down, see the ball and put the barrel on it."
Cain, who lost three starts this season to Cincinnati, including Game 1, was finally reached for two runs in the bottom of the fifth on Phillips' double to the gap in right-center field. It gave the Reds and their 44,142 very loud fans at Great American Ball Park some hope.
In the sixth, Ryan Ludwick's leadoff homer against Cain turned hope into striking distance. Four times, the Reds had the tying run at the plate in the late innings, but they couldn't find the big hit.
After Ludwick's blast, the Reds had runners on first and second with one out before getting a huge momentum killer. Hanigan was rung up on a dubious strike-three call by Hallion. That happened as Jay Bruce was thrown out by Posey trying to steal third base for a double play. The rally formally died once Drew Stubbs grounded out against reliever George Kontos to finish the sixth.
"It looked like the pitch was outside," said Baker of the pitch to Hanigan. "That changed the whole ballgame. If he hits it on the ground and you don't run, it's a double play, and if you do run and he misses it, it's still a double play. So we were trying to be aggressive at that time and stay out of the double play."
"That could've been even bigger [than the grand slam], because they had a lot of momentum going," Posey said.
In the eighth, with two outs and two on for Sergio Romo, pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro hit a sinking line drive to center field before Pagan's superb sliding catch took away a run.
Romo returned for the ninth and issued a one-out walk to Cozart, and Votto rolled a single through the right side. Ludwick lined an RBI single into left field to make it a two-run game and bring the winning run to the plate for the most exciting at-bat of the game.
Following a quick 0-2 count to Romo, Bruce fought for 12 pitches -- including six foul balls -- to run up a full count as fans screamed while on their feet for every pitch. They were not rewarded as Bruce flied out to left field. Scott Rolen's strikeout ended the game and the season for a Reds team that was 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position. It was the first time all season that they lost three games in a row at Great American Ball Park.
"That at-bat that Jay Bruce had was unbelievable. That was sheer determination," Baker said. "You've got to work a little harder this winter, and this is going to take a while for this to heal, but everything heals. Sometimes you just get tired of disappointments."
The Reds won 97 games in the regular season and won the NL Central division going away. They expected to go places in the postseason. But the only place they're going now is home, and they can only ask where it all went wrong.
"We came up short," Votto said. "This was a series where we can either paint this organization with a failure brush or we can take it and learn from it and improve. We showed resilience. Hopefully we use what we learn from this and it makes us tougher, makes us hungrier and makes us better. I think that it will."