To get the awful taste of that Toronto series out of our mouths, and to prepare for Matt Cain’s start tonight in Colorado, here again is that awesome play turned by Cain last Friday against the Atlanta Braves at AT&T Park. It happened in the top of the second inning with one out and nobody on. With the count 1-2, Braves catcher Brian McCann hit a sharp comebacker that deflected off of Cain’s right thigh and rolled toward the first base line. Without missing a beat, Cain ran for the ball, grabbed it with his right hand just as it reached the line, and flipped a quick off-balance throw to Brandon Belt at first, getting McCann by a couple of steps. Belt was equally terrific on the play, stretching to his left in foul territory to glove the throw from Cain while keeping his foot on the bag.
It was only after the play was over that Cain showed how much the combacker stung. Now that’s a major league player.
Cain pitched beautifully that game, going eight innings and giving up only two earned runs on three hits. The Giants won, 8-2.
We need another one like that.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Then, miraculously, it was the best of times again.
Last night for the first three innings against the Diamondbacks, Matt Cain looked like his old self. He was controlling his fastball. He was getting Diamondbacks hitters to pop out. He had three strikeouts in three innings. He even struck out Giants killer Paul Goldschmidt.
What’s more, Giants hitters were doing something they rarely do: giving Matt Cain run support. And they did so right out of the dugout, scoring two runs in the top of the first and adding another run in the top of the second. They had already matched the total number of runs they had given Matt Cain during his first five starts.
Dawn seemed to finally be breaking on Matt Cain’s dark night of the pitcher’s soul.
Then came the bottom of the fourth inning.
It started with a walk to Cody Ross, Cain’s third walk of the game. That should have set off alarms that however good Cain looked, something wasn’t quite right. Jason Kubel came up next, and on the first pitch launched one into the right field stands.
Thousands of Giants fans—sitting in Chase Park, watching on television, listening on the radio—shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They shifted again, perhaps even let out a curse under their breaths, after Eric Chavez belted an opposite field solo home run over the left field wall, tying the game, 3-3. Cliff Pennington, who doubled during his previous at bat against Cain, also got hold of one to right field. Fortunately, it fell into Hunter Pence’s glove on the warning track. Pitcher Ian Kennedy grounded out to short. With two outs, it looked like Cain might limit the damage.
Martin Prado came up and quickly got behind in the count, 0-2. The next pitch was a ball, low. The count was 1-2. Prado fouled the next pitch into the stands deep along the right field line. It was a loud foul, and, in retrospect perhaps, a portent of what was to come.
Cain threw a fastball down and in, and Prado catapulted it into the left field stands.
In case you’re wondering what a pitcher who has just given up three home runs in an inning looks like…
…yeah, Cain doesn’t give away his emotions as readily as he’s giving up home runs this year. I, on the other hand, looked like his wife, Chelsea, during the final three outs of his perfect game last year. Really. I checked in the mirror.
I’ve never believed in curses, but I was beginning to believe Cain was as marked as his namesake in the Bible. No matter how well he seemed to be pitching, he carried that big run inning with him always. You didn’t know when it would come, but as surely as the sun rises in the east or an ‘L’ car follows another ‘L’ car in a downtown Muni station, it would come.
Gerardo Parra’s strikeout to end the inning hardly seemed a consolation. The Diamondbacks led, 4-3.
It was only the fourth inning, but after five consecutive losses, it appeared the Giants were being set up for a sixth. The Giants managed to tie the game in the top of the fifth, 4-4, after Scutaro singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Ian Kennedy. Pablo Sandoval knocked Scutaro in with a ground ball to right, somehow reaching down to hit a pitch that almost bounced off the plate.
Buster Posey walked. With two men on and one out, Hunter Pence hit into an inning-ending double play, although the replay showed he was safe at first. Bruce Bochy thought so too. It was the second such call that didn’t go the Giants way, and that, perhaps along with the big run inning, was too much for Bochy. He unloaded on first base umpire Bill Miller and got himself ejected.
We were all Bruce Bochy at that moment.
The game stayed tied until the top of the eighth. Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler came in to replace Ian Kennedy. Nick Noonan, who replaced Pablo Sandoval at third in the sixth inning after Sandoval’s elbow did its thing, doubled to left. Buster Posey moved Noonan to third base with a sacrifice fly to right. Hunter Pence grounded out. Gregor Blanco walked. Another walk to Brandon Crawford loaded the bases for Brandon Belt. In what seems to be becoming a welcome trend for Belt, he hammered a ground ball to center, scoring Noonan and Blanco. The Giants took back the lead, 6-4. It would remain that way as the Giants bullpen shut down the Diamondbacks offense.
It was another come-from-behind victory for the Giants, though it didn’t feel that way. Yes, the Giants had finally broken a five game losing streak. But it’s a game they should have won from the beginning.
Still, we’ll take it, even as the big run inning for Giants starters looms large.
I have this friend who has some rather odd driving habits. Whenever he gets behind the wheel of a car, he appears nervous at first, uncertain of himself. He makes a lot of small adjustments to the rear view and side view mirrors. He rolls the electric windows up and down. He moves his seat backwards, then forwards, then backwards again, unable to find the exact position he wants. He checks the glove box, closes it, and checks it one more time. He releases the emergency brake, puts it on, releases it. He makes one more mirror adjustment. Finally, after craning his neck two or three times to look out the rear window, he starts the car.
Right away, he adds too much gas and lurches backwards before slamming on the brakes and coming to a screeching stop. Sometimes, he mistakenly puts the car in ‘Drive’ instead of ‘Reverse’ and shoots forward into his garage door or the wall of a local establishment. When he gets on the road, he has a hard time staying in his own lane. He has been known to drive onto the curb and stay on it for a good 500 feet, smashing into neighbors’ trashcans. Now and then, he honks at passing drivers by mistake, which usually results in them giving him the finger.
His nervous, erratic driving goes on for about ten minutes. Then suddenly, without rhyme or reason, it stops. He remains comfortably in his lane. He appears calm, confident. He observes the speed limit. He waves pleasantly at passing drivers he knows. He drives smoothly, one might even say expertly. It’s as if the bumbling, incompetent driver who got into his car ten minutes earlier turned magically into Mario Andretti.
If I were the type of person who bestows nicknames on his friends, I would call this one Giants Starter.
It has become a common routine for Giants starting pitchers, hasn’t it? Begin a game as if you were the worst pitcher in baseball. Give up a bunch of runs in the early innings. Then somehow, magically, transform into the lights-out pitcher everyone knows you are.
April 18 vs. Brewers: Matt Cain gives up seven runs in the first three innings before pitching three shutout innings.
April 14 vs. Cubs: Tim Lincecum allows four runs in the first inning then doesn’t allow another run his next four innings.
April 11 vs. Cubs: Ryan Vogelsong gives up one run in the second inning and four more in the third, then blanks Cubs hitters the next three innings.
April 9 vs. Rockies: Tim Lincecum gives up five runs in the second inning and only one additional run in the next four innings.
What’s going on here? Early season adjustments? Are Giants pitchers learning from their mistakes, discovering first what doesn’t work before settling on what does?
Let’s hope so. Because although in some cases, the shutout innings have allowed the Giants to get back into the game with their bats, such as on April 9 against the Rockies and April 11 and 14 against the Cubs, Giants pitchers can’t count on the hitters to bail them out all the time. Case in point, yesterday against the Brewers.
Time to meditate on what works before the first pitch is thrown.
Enough with the torture already. I know it’s the Giants’ modus operandi, but my ticker needs a rest. In the past three days, the Giants have book-ended their 10-0 trouncing of the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday with two come-from-behind victories.
On Tuesday at AT&T Park, Tim Lincecum gave up five runs in the second inning to the Rockies. Down 6-2 in the sixth, the Giants answered with four, including a three-run opposite field home run by Brandon Crawford. They tacked on three more in the eighth and went on to win 9-6.
Yesterday, on a wet, foggy, seagull-swooping day at Wrigley Field that could have doubled for AT&T Park if it weren’t for the ivy-covered walls, Ryan Vogelsong had his second unsettling outing in a row, giving up a run in the second and four in the third. Then, with two out and two on in the top of the fourth, Vogelsong hit what should have been an easy ground out to Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. But on a day in which both defenses struggled, due, in part, to the miserable weather, the ball zipped through Castro’s legs and into left field, allowing Hunter Pence to score and Nick Noonan to move to third. It would be the beginning of the Giants’ second four-run inning in three days. They would add three more in the fifth and go on to beat the Cubs 7-6.
So far this year, all of the Giants starters, with the exception of Barry Zito, have shown signs of shakiness. Zito, meanwhile, has pitched 14 scoreless innings. He has given up ten hits, struck out eight, and walked only four batters.
Who would have guessed going into this year that Zito would be the one starter who makes you breathe easier whenever he takes the mound?
Here’s hoping Matt Cain gives the Giants a decisive a victory in Chicagoland today, and puts to rest the ghost of the Cardinals’ 14-3 blowout last Sunday. The Giants bats are heating up–they’re hitting .272 as a team, the fourth best average in the league–so as long as Cain doesn’t give up another monster inning, they may get one. But they’re facing Cubs starter Carlos Villaneuva, who gave up only one run in six and two-thirds innings in his first outing against the Braves last Saturday, and would have gotten the win if not for the implosion of the Cubs bullpen.
The last time Cain pitched in Wrigley was September 2nd of last year. He had a poor outing, giving up five earned runs on six hits. He gave up four of those runs in the 5th inning, which would turn out to be his last.
But as with last night’s game, this one had a happy, come-from-behind ending.
The Giants scored three in the third inning and two in sixth, tying the game 5-5.
A solid performance by the Giants bullpen—Mijares, Affeldt, Casilla—kept the Cubs scoreless until the ninth. Then, in the top of the ninth, with Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco on first and second, Angel Pagan singled to drive in Blanco. Marco Scutaro came up next and knocked in Crawford. The Giants went into the bottom of the ninth with the lead, 7-5.
In the bottom of the ninth, with Santiago Casilla on the mound, Cubs center fielder Brett Jackson flew out to Blanco in left. But then Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney singled off Casilla to center, bringing the tying run to the plate.
Bruce Bochy brought in left-hander Javier Lopez to face right-handed pinch-hitter Joe Mather. It was a good call. Mather ground into a game-ending double play.
Exciting baseball. And not unlike what we’ve seen in the last few days. But I could do with a little less excitement for a change.