Baker got creative with his pitching staff and the Reds won the first two games. With a chance to wrap it up back in Cincinnati, they had a passed ball and an error that let the Giants rally for a 10-inning win in Game 3. The Giants completed their comeback on Buster Posey's grand slam to take Game 5.
The Reds have won two division titles in the last three years - their best showing since Sparky Anderson ran the Big Red Machine in the 1970s - and have won 169 games over the last three years, their best such stretch in 30 years.
"We're moving in the right direction," General Manager Walt Jocketty said. "We're trying to build a team that will be in contention for a long time and win multiple world championships. One of the things we feel is very important is continuity.
"Every place I've been, we've always had continuity, whether it's the scouts, the front office, the minor league people. But most importantly, the guys that are leading the team on the field. If you look, the more successful operations and teams are the organizations that keep continuity in their leadership."
Baker has presided over a revival in Cincinnati, which was rebuilding when he took over in 2008. The Reds were moving from a team reliant on homers - an offense built around Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn - to one that wins with pitching and defense.
A young team reached the playoffs unexpectedly in 2010, then got swept by Philadelphia. Baker became one of only six managers to win division titles with three teams, along with Billy Martin, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and Davey Johnson.
Cincinnati took a step back last year, when three starters got hurt or sick during spring training and several players had subpar seasons. They won 90 games again this year, the seventh time one of Baker's teams has reached the mark.
The overriding question was whether he'd be physically able to continue managing. He's had an irregular heartbeat since he was a teenager and high blood pressure for years. He's managing the problems with a change in diet.
"Really his health was never an issue with us and him," Jocketty said. "The doctors in Chicago and Cincinnati gave him a clean bill of health and said he'd have a total recovery. We've seen a quick recovery. Look at him now - he looks happier and stronger than he was even months ago."
Baker has lost weight, much of it from fluid buildup.
"I can't wait for spring training," Baker said. "I feel excellent. I feel I have most of my strength back."