SAN FRANCISCO -- If the Reds didn't feel like the team with home-field advantage as they began the National League Division Series at the Giants' bayside home, they should feel it now.Whether it's a 2-3 format, the old 2-2-1 or any variation thereof, the Reds have what may be the most important numbers on their side after Saturday's plucky 5-2 road win at AT&T Park: 1-0.
Winning Game 1 is obviously always the preference in any scenario, but doing it on the road under the one-year return to a 2-3 Division Series format is a big boost for the Reds -- and puts the Giants on red alert heading into Sunday's Game 2 at 9:30 p.m. ET on TBS.For the Reds' players, most of whom were on the 2010 team that was swept by the Phillies starting with a Game 1 no-hitter by the Phillies' Roy Halladay, this was new territory, having the early advantage in the series. They like the feeling. "We really didn't know how it felt to win a game, but it always feels good to get that first one," said Game 1 star Brandon Phillips, who spurred the Reds' offense with a homer and three RBIs. The flip side of the equation is that the team that for the first two games has the home-field advantage now has to win at least two games on the road to win the series. "This is one game, and sure you hate to lose the opener and we're at home, but we have a lot of baseball left," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "These guys have been resilient all year, and now it's time for us to wash this off and be ready to go back at it tomorrow." When the Giants return for Game 2 on Sunday, history will be among the things they have to overcome, not just the Reds. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Game 1 winner of the previous 68 Division Series advanced 48 times, or 71 percent of the time. In the Majors' 104 previous best-of-five series, which includes the LCS from 1969-84 and four Division Series in 1981's split season, the Game 1 victor advanced 73 times, or 70 percent. When the Division Series began in 1995, the 2-3 format was in place and stayed through 1997, with division winners rotating for the top seed to face the Wild Card. In five of those 12 series, the team with home-field advantage won Game 1, four of them winding up winning the series. Overall, the team with home-field advantage won eight of those series. Before Saturday's opener, Reds manager Dusty Baker was asked if he really felt like the team with the home-field advantage, starting out the series on the road. "That's a good question because it doesn't feel like I have the home-field advantage at all," said Baker, harkening back to the 1997 Division Series, also a 2-3 format, in which his higher-seeded Giants lost two in Florida against the Marlins and then were swept by the eventual World Series champions. If he wasn't feeling it before the game, imagine how Baker was feeling about his team's advantage when he had to get his ace, Johnny Cueto, off the mound after throwing just eight pitches due to back spasms. But what Sam LeCure, Mat Latos and the relievers who followed them did was hold the Giants down in order to keep the Reds alive in Game 1 -- and in the driver's seat going forward. "It was huge," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said afterward. "This is a big situation for everybody, and we knew we had to calm the waters because we were all concerned about Johnny, and losing Johnny. [LeCure] bridged the gap to get us to Mat, and obviously Mat did his thing." All things considered, the Reds came out of a harrowing situation as well as can be expected. Going forward in the series, a lot depends on how Latos recovers from his 57-pitch performance and whether Cueto's back settles down, Price said. "We're going to have to wait and see," he said. "We asked [Latos] to do something out of the ordinary, and that was pitching on three days' rest and throwing on the same day he threw a bullpen, a light bullpen -- 20 pitches, pretty easy. "However, we have to see how he recovers, and we have to see what's going on with Johnny. Once we see what's going on with Johnny, we can have an idea what games we have to cover and not with the rest of the group." What the Reds do know is they dodged a potentially devastating situation and came out road victors in Game 1. And even if they have one more game in San Francisco, now they really can feel like the home-field advantage is theirs.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.