SAN FRANCISCO -- Oh, brother!
The Reds' Ryan Ludwick had himself a ballgame in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
More on that later. First, you need to know about the role Ludwick played for the Reds long before Sunday's 9-0 win over the Giants in Game 2, a victory sparked by Ludwick's second-inning home run and sealed by Bronson Arroyo's right arm.
You need to look back at late July and August, when Ludwick carried the Reds during the absence of injured star Joey Votto.
"Once Joey went down, it felt like he carried us for two months," said Reds reliever and Ludwick buddy Sam LeCure. "It seemed like every time he came up in an RBI spot, a key spot, he got it. Game-winning homers. It was ridiculous.
"It's hard to envision us having the lead we had down the stretch without him."
More on LeCure coming up, too.
When Votto went down with a knee injury on July 15, Ludwick was still in the hitting funk he'd adopted in San Diego, where he played before signing a $2.5 million, one-year contract with the Reds that has a $5 million mutual option for 2013. But during Votto's absence, Ludwick transformed from a .236 hitter with a .486 slugging percentage and .794 OPS as of July 15 to a .340 hitter with a .647 slugging percentage and a 1.051 OPS over those 49 games. In all of baseball, only Albert Pujols had a higher slugging percentage in that span. Only Buster Posey and Miguel Cabrera had a better OPS.
The Reds went 33-16 without Votto. They stormed to the NL Central crown, extending from one game to 8 1/2 games their division lead while Votto was out.
"And not a lot of guys were clicking offensively," LeCure said. "When guys were getting on, [Ludwick] was driving them in every time. At least that's what it felt like. I think 'Luddy' kind of relished that challenge."
Then there are the contributions not measured by statistics.
Ludwick's signature exclamation, "BROTHER!" is to this year's Reds what "Beast Mode" was to Prince Fielder and the 2011 Brewers. It started in hotels on the road, when Ludwick and LeCure would plug in their traveling Xbox and serve as teammates against Mike Leake and Sean Marshall in a multiplayer hockey video game. Ludwick dubbed his partner "Blade Brother." Then he started calling LeCure, "brother," at the ballpark. Their teammates began making fun of Ludwick and LeCure. All of a sudden, everybody was calling everybody else, "BROTHER!"
It took off from there.
"It wasn't meant to be a big thing," LeCure said. "It was just us being stupid."
Ludwick still does it best, his tone best described by Reds staffer Jamey Ramsey as a mixture of wrestler Hulk Hogan and Reds legend Sean Casey. Somewhere along the line, "BROTHER!" became a hit in the community. Ramsey, the Reds' defacto social media director, dubbed the Reds the "Band of Brothers." Nike created a T-shirt for sale at Great American Ball Park that says, "Just do it, brother."
Truth be told, Ludwick is a bit uncomfortable with the attention.
"I'm not a guy who likes to be singled out in anything," he said. "I kind of consider myself more of a team player. But we use it as a team thing, and it works for us."
Which brings us to Sunday, when the Reds faced a Giants left-hander, Madison Bumgarner, who had worked a one-hit shutout against the Reds at AT&T Park on June 28. He had held Ludwick to one hit in 16 previous at-bats.
This time, Bumgarner worked a perfect first inning, but was greeted by Ludwick in the second with a high solo home run to straightaway center field.
In the fourth, Ludwick hit one of four Reds singles in a three-run flurry that extended the lead to 4-0. In the eighth, the Reds added five more runs and made it a rout.
The Reds were obviously undaunted by their history against Bumgarner.
"If you're daunted, you shouldn't be playing the game," Ludwick said. "If you're beat before the game started, you shouldn't be in this locker room. We've got a confident clubhouse, and I think that shows by the way we battled through adversity [in Game 1 of the series], when we lost our No. 1 starter in the first inning, the way we lost Joey Votto [earlier in the season]. It's a resilient group, and every night it seems like it's a different guy chipping in. Tonight, we had a lot of guys chip in, and when we do that, we're a pretty dangerous ballclub."
The victory gave the Reds a commanding 2-0 lead in the series, which shifts to Cincinnati beginning Tuesday and will end there no later than Thursday, weather permitting, either with the Reds heading to the NL Championship Series or heading home as the first NL team ever to surrender a two games to none lead in a best-of-five series.
"I'm sure we'll be ready," Ludwick said.