SAN FRANCISCO

All the melodramatic twists, tweaks and breaks should've made the Giants virtually unbeatable Saturday.

They had their ace, Matt Cain, on the mound, and the Reds lost their ace, Johnny Cueto, after eight pitches.

The Giants were at AT&T Park, their beloved and spacious home, and the scene of so many 2010 playoff raves.

Game 1 of this NLDS was all set up for the Giants, yes it was.

Until Cain got hit, the Giants' bats and home crowd stayed mostly silent, they lost 5-2, and suddenly the plot got flipped on them.

Now the Giants are the team in a scramble for answers to questions that they thought they might never be asked in this best-of-five series.

I mean, if the Giants can't win this game, with the Reds facing such instant adversity, how can the Giants win this series?

The Reds were down a man early, and who knows what Cueto's status will be for the rest of this series after suffering from back spasms.

But Cincinnati still was clearly better than the Giants in Game 1--while the Giants were at top strength and the Reds were not.

The Reds' Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce homered off Cain, and reliever Sam LeCure and scheduled Game 3 starter Mat Latos combined for 5 1/3 extremely important emergency innings.

That was enough to spin this whole series around and make Sunday's Game 2 something close to a do-or-die contest for the Giants.


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Remember, the Giants never trailed in any of their three playoff series on their way to the 2010 championship. They took early leads and took total control against Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas.

They're a different team now, but they still don't have the feel of a come-from-behind club.

Now the Giants will have to play from behind right off the bat, with Madison Bumgarner slated to start Game 2"... but with the Reds' bats heating up.

And remember, Games 3, 4 and 5 are slated for Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, a home-run bandbox that does not seem perfectly suited for the Giants' small-ball style.

There is now some question about who starts Game 3 for Cincinnati--it almost certainly won't be Latos, a noted Giants-killer.

But if Cueto can come back, then the Reds will have essentially switched Latos for Cueto in the rotation, with Latos in line to start either Game 4 or 5 if needed.

Also, the Giants haven't named a Game 3 starter themselves, for strategic reasons, but also because the back end of their own rotation is a little questionable right now.

So all those factors made Game 1 nearly essential for the Giants.

But Cain wasn't at his best, the Reds made him pay for it, the Giants' bats weren't in high gear, and even the injury to Cueto couldn't push this to the Giants.

The Giants' last gasp came in the eighth, when they got two runners on against reliever Jonathan Broxton, with Gregor Blanco at-bat.

The crowd stood up, waving orange towels, and for the first time all night it felt like the Giants could be destined for something big again.

But Blanco took a full-count pitch for called third strike to end the inning and then the Reds tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the inning and turned to super-closer Aroldis Chapman in the ninth. Chapman pitched himself into a bases-loaded jam, but then pitched himself out of it, fanning Buster Posey on a high fastball for the final out.

And there went Game 1, and the momentum, and control of this series.

The Giants could swiftly turn back the tide in Game 2, at least temporarily. But on Saturday the Giants should've pushed the Reds into a hole, and instead everything got reversed.

Contact Tim Kawakami at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.