SAN FRANCISCO – Of his winless April, and the six starts that marked the longest he had gone without a victory to start a season, Matt Cain offered this typically even-keel assessment: "It wasn't something I was proud of.
"I just didn't pitch well for the guys," Cain said. "And I needed to step it up."
Cain took a shutout into the eighth inning Sunday night and got into the win column as the Giants' bullpen held on for a 4-3 win to complete a sweep of the reeling Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park.
The Giants won all three games by one run and have swept every team in the National League West in their first 31 games. Unlike the first two games of the series, no walk-off heroics were needed Sunday, as the Giants staked their scuffling ace to a four-run lead and saw him throw his best outing since the last time he faced the Dodgers on Opening Day.
Cain pitched six scoreless innings in that game but had since posted a 7.85 ERA in five starts. Sunday, he scattered five hits over 7 1/3 innings and kept the Dodgers in the park – an issue last month as he allowed nine home runs over four starts.
"I wasn't making as many mistakes," Cain said. "And even the mistakes I was making, it happened to be that guys were hitting them at guys. They had some hard-hit balls that were at guys, and we had some good defense."
Coming out to start the eighth inning at 100 pitches, Cain got Nick Punto to ground out but walked Matt Kemp as his final hitter. Cain received a standing ovation as he left the mound with a 4-0 lead and tipped his cap before reaching the dugout.
"He got better as he went, started getting the ball down a little better, and the secondary pitches got crisper," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Good for Matty. It's a win, but still it took a while. So that's good to get off his back."
Cain hit 93 mph on the radar gun in the late innings, which Bochy held as a sign that Cain's early struggles have not been fatigue- or health-related. Cain said his "arm has felt good, and my body's felt good throughout it all.
"It's just tweaking it a little bit and making better pitches at times," he said. "Sometimes, you're going that bad, you might want to wish something was going wrong physically, but that wasn't the case."
The lead shrunk quickly. After Javier Lopez struck out Andre Ethier, George Kontos and Jeremy Affeldt combined to face four hitters without getting an out.
In a one-run game, Bochy brought in Jean Machi to face Jerry Hairston Jr. with runners on first and second, and Machi got Hairston to ground out to Brandon Crawford.
Sergio Romo pitched a perfect ninth for his 12th save in 13 chances, retiring Kemp on a fly to center to clinch the Giants' sixth win in a row – all against division rivals and coming on the heels of a season-long five-game losing streak.
"You're going to see that – a team that's not going to get too high and not going to get too low," said Hunter Pence, who drove in all four of the Giants' runs. "That's what I see as the biggest positive is bouncing back from that and not having any pointing fingers. We were unified even more, if that's even possible."
Pence batted with multiple runners on in his first three at-bats and delivered a fielder's choice, an RBI double and a two-run double off the right-field wall in the fifth against Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Pence said the RBI opportunities were a sign that "the lineup is really starting to unfold the way it's supposed to."
The same could not be said for the Dodgers, who began Sunday missing three-fourths of their starting infield after scratching first baseman Adrian Gonzalez because of neck pain and putting Hanley Ramirez (hamstring) on the disabled list earlier in the weekend. Gonzalez pinch hit in the eighth and hit a two-run single off Affeldt.
The sweep dropped the Dodgers to 5-13 against the N.L. West and 1-5 against the Giants, who wake up this morning with a one-game lead over Colorado in the division.
Pagan rests – Angel Pagan did not play after straining his right hamstring during Saturday's game. Pagan said the injury occurred when he made a throw from center field on Kemp's two-run single in the fifth and is "not bad," but he wanted to get treatment Sunday rather than risk turning it into a long-term issue by playing.
Pagan said he was "very positive" he'll be in the lineup today against the Phillies.
Bochy wasn't as conclusive, saying Pagan is "questionable" and that the Giants aren't going to take any chances with their center fielder and leadoff hitter.