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SAN FRANCISCO: Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce each smashed home runs to help power the Cincinnati Reds over San Francisco 5-2 on Saturday in a Major League Baseball playoff series opener.
The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five National League series with game two on Sunday.
The series winner will meet either the Washington Nationals or St Louis Cardinals to decide a berth in the World Series final.
Cincinnati suffered a major setback early when starting pitcher Johnny Cueto departed with back spasms after retiring only one batter.
The 26-year-old Dominican right-hander made only eight pitches but Reds officials said he could be healthy in time to start in game three on Tuesday in Cincinnati.
“He had his head down a little,” Phillips said.
“I went up to him and said, ‘Don’t be sad. We’re going to get this game for you.’”
Reliever Sam LeCure took the mound for the Reds and threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings to buy time for Mat Latos, the originally scheduled game three starter, to prepare himself before taking the mound in the third inning.
“I just hated to see Johnny in pain like that but Sam bridged the gap,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker.
Cincinnati took a 2-0 lead on a two-run homer by Phillips over the left-centerfield wall in the third off San Francisco starter Matt Cain.
“He left a hanging curve ball up there and I took advantage of it,” Phillips said.
Suddenly the shock loss of Cueto seemed less of a worry for the Reds.
“That gave us a big lift,” Baker said.
Phillips had three hits in all and singled in a run in the ninth for the Reds in the victory.