Even without best stuff, Cain proves sturdy
Ace works around jams to turn in scoreless start in decisive Game 7 of NLCS
SAN FRANCISCO -- Remember how fragile the Giants' rotation looked after Madison Bumgarner got knocked around in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series? How uncertain the future looked when manager Bruce Bochy waited until the last possible moment to announce that Tim Lincecum would start Game 4 and Barry Zito Game 5?
Neither do the Giants.
Being pushed to the limit to have to roar back to beat the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Division Series meant that ace right-hander Matt Cain wouldn't be available until Game 3 of the NLCS. Which meant in turn that he'd be fully rested for Game 7, if needed.
He was needed. And with all due respect to the magic spun by Zito and the fairy tale Ryan Vogelsong continues to write, Cain was the right man at the right time as San Francisco completed another impressive postseason comeback. The Giants beat the Cardinals for the third straight game, 9-0, on Monday night at AT&T Park to advance to the World Series.
"He's the guy you want out there," Vogelsong said. "He's our horse. That's his nickname around here. Myself, personally, he's the guy I want on the mound. He did it consistently all year. He was definitely our best starter all year. I couldn't think of a better pitcher to have out there in Game 7."
Next up: Game 1 of the Fall Classic against the Tigers on Wednesday night.
Cain wasn't as dominant as he can be. He retired the Cardinals in order just once. He had to pitch out of a jam in the second after giving up a leadoff single to Yadier Molina, and followed that with a walk to David Freese. Cain then got Daniel Descalso to ground into a force play at second, struck out Pete Kozma as Descalso stole second and retired pitcher Kyle Lohse on soft line drive that shortstop Brandon Crawford had to jump to catch.
"That was a big part of the game," Crawford said. "Cain was pitching his butt off. And I was able to get up there and make the catch. I knew it was over my head. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to get it. With it being directly over my head, I couldn't really turn one way or the other. I had to go straight up and I was just glad I was able to get to it. Everything slows down a little bit. You feel like you're in the air a little longer than you probably are. But it's always fun making plays like that, especially in a big situation."
In the third, Jon Jay was on third with two outs and Allen Craig hit the ball hard ... but right at left fielder Gregor Blanco.
"I won't say I was concerned, but ... he was not on top of his game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He was getting on the side of the ball, he was leaving some pitches up and wasn't hitting his spots as well as he normally does. But I think it says a lot about his makeup and how he competes that he found a way to get it done. He got in some jams and he made some pitches when he had to.
"It wasn't his best stuff, but he got the win and he shut them down. It's what you have to do when you're out there without your best stuff. You have to adjust and he did that."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny thought his hitters missed an opportunity to get to Cain early.
"We were hitting some balls hard, yeah," Matheny said. "I believe in our offense. I didn't doubt for a moment that we would get something going. He did a nice job of keeping us off balance. But I know our club fully anticipated something was going to happen. It just didn't."
Cain's final line: 5 2/3 innings, five hits, one walk, four strikeouts. And, of course, no runs.
"The energy that the stadium had today was awesome. I think we really fed off that," Cain said. "We had a lot of momentum going our way."
On the FOX postgame show, the righty credited the defense.
"It was huge," he said. "That's really what made this series, is guys came up big with making huge defensive plays. [Monday] night, it was really, really big. Marco Scutaro making some great plays at second. With Crawford jumping to catch the ball off Lohse and with Blanco being in the right spot in left-center. That's how we won. Those guys were in the right spots."
Cain pitched well in his first NLCS start, allowing just three runs in 6 2/3 innings, but took the loss. Remember how devastating that seemed at the time?
Neither do the Giants. Not after he pitched them into the World Series on Monday night.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.