SAN FRANCISCO -- Cincinnati Reds infielder Todd Frazier faced teammate Bronson Arroyo only once. It was in a minor league game a few years ago, and Frazier hit a home run on the first pitch. It was, Frazier admits, mostly luck, and he would never choose to face Arroyo as the Giants did Sunday, in the crucial second game of the NLDS.
"What [Arroyo] does, it is just an art," Frazier said. "You think with a guy throwing 90 mph -- and that is what he topped out at only twice tonight -- anybody can hit that. But he's throwing Frisbees; and at different arm angles. You want to slow your feet down, and then it is by you at 86 [mph]. Then you rush a little bit and he throws it 78 [mph] and you are leaning . . . It is so difficult, and you can watch as much video on him as you can but it doesn't matter."
The Giants would have to agree after Arroyo retired the first 14 batters he faced and allowed only one hit -- a Brandon Belt single to center in the fifth -- and one walk, with four strikeouts in seven innings in 9-0 Reds victory at AT&T Park.
In a season marked by dominant power pitchers and strikeouts, it was not a hard-thrower who put Cincinnati up 2-0 in the best-of-five series. It was Arroyo, with his Juan Marichal-like leg kick and his "funky stuff" (as defined by Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips), throwing pitches sometimes clocked as low as 71 mph and with descriptions like "drop down backdoor."
"There is no one like Bronson in the way he pitches," says catcher Ryan Hanigan, who was two-for-four with three RBI. He does so many things with his breaking ball, with his fastball, with his changeup. He drops down with all his pitches, changes speeds, he will throw a lot of what we call 'B.P. speed' pitches. It's hard to sit on stuff."
The Giants did very little sitting. They swung too freely, which played to the 35-year-old Arroyo's strengths, as did cavernous AT&T Park. Arroyo had never gone six innings in the postseason before Sunday, and afterward he couldn't argue that it was the best game he'd ever pitched.
"These games are as big as any in my whole career. I go back to pitching some innings in playoffs games in Boston, but every year that goes by you feel like the next one is the biggest thing," Arroyo said. "For this ball club, last year we didn't win a game in the playoffs and just getting off to a good start and have the ball club believe and the fan base believe, all those type of things that can help you later on."
Arroyo is among the more eccentric personalities in the Reds clubhouse. Prior to Sunday's game, he talked effusively about the gold and silver cup the team takes on road trips. Depending on the city, the cup has a different name. In San Francisco it might be the Golden Gate Cup. In Chicago it might become the Windy City Cup. When Cincinnati clinched the National League Central division on Sept. 22, Reds players drank beer and champagne from it. Whatever it's name at the moment, it is hard not to imagine the Reds drinking from it again as soon as after Tuesday's Game 3.
Homer Bailey, who tossed four scoreless innings against the Cardinals in his final start of the season, and a no-hitter in his next-to-last start at Pittsburgh, will take the mound hoping to pick up where Arroyo and Game 1 pitching hero Mat Latos left off.
The Giants will counter with Ryan Vogelsong, a somewhat controversial pick by Giants manager Bruce Bochy, as he was selected of over Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner and one of the heroes from the 2010 World Series team. "I think the way [Vogelsong] has been throwing the ball his last couple of starts, he's been on with his command, his stuff," said Bochy. "We like where's he's at right now."
Lincecum pitched two scoreless innings in relief on Sunday, which will surely lead to some second-guessing should Vogelsong falter. But Bochy's choice is justifiable given the two pitchers' performances late in the season. Still, the Giants are hoping that Vogelsong can come through, whereas the Reds have seen enough go their way through two games that the are brimming with confidence, expecting the next man to step up.
"Latos came into the game [Saturday] and did his job and Bronson came out of nowhere and did his job and it is just beautiful," said Phillips, who had an RBI double in the eighth inning. "And I believe in Homer for Game 3. Dude, threw a no-hitter [two starters ago].
"Everyone is stepping up and doing their jobs. I am loving this team right now."