Giants move back into first-place tie behind Cain, familiar formula
07/10/2014 12:19 AM
07/10/2014 12:20 AM
SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Cain recorded just his second win of the season Wednesday night. The Giants won for just the fifth time in Cain’s 15 starts. They also won for only the eighth time in their last 28 games, and the fourth time in their last 18 games at home.
And despite all this, the Giants’ 5-2 victory over the A’s moved them back into a tie for first place in the N.L. West with the Dodgers, who lost Wednesday to the Detroit Tigers.
"I think if you look at how things have gone, you may find that amazing," manager Bruce Bochy said. "But it’s all from the good work that happened earlier.
"There’s a long road ahead of us, but I will say they’re fighting. That’s all you can ask."
Wednesday night’s game bore some of the trademarks of the Giants’ formula for success earlier this season -- a quality outing from Cain, three perfect innings from the bullpen and contributions throughout the lineup.
The latter has been conspicuously absent recently. But along with Hunter Pence (a home run and an RBI single) and Buster Posey (RBI single), the Giants got key hits as well by Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford at the bottom of the order.
Panik singled against Jason Hammel in the second inning with Gregor Blanco in motion from first base, and Blanco wound up scoring on the play when Yoenis Cespedes bobbled the ball in left field. Panik and Crawford then hit consecutive singles to lead off the sixth and both eventually scored.
"I think when we’re at our best, or really any team is at their best, is when you’re getting some contributions all the way through the lineup," Posey said. "And I think early in the season that’s what we were doing. Not necessarily one person was extremely hot, but everybody was just being consistent."
The Giants also showed some aggressiveness on the basepaths, first with Blanco’s dash in the second and again in the third, when Brandon Belt judged Pablo Sandoval’s sinking fly ball to center well enough to take third as the ball fell in front of Coco Crisp’s dive.
It wasn’t long ago Blanco made a mental blunder by being thrown out trying to steal third in a close game with Posey, at that point the only Giants hitter producing, in the box. He recalled that play Wednesday night as another instance of "trying to create some action," though his aggressiveness in this game produced a much more positive result.
"We need to, especially right now, take the extra base," Blanco said. "And I believe we are doing those things."
After scoring just one run in the first 18 innings of this series, the Giants scored five at home for just the second time since June 15. They are now 31-4 when scoring at least five runs this season, and they’re 37-11 when they score first.
"Guys came up with some big clutch hits when we needed them and put some pressure on those guys," Cain said. "Which is always nice."
* Cain allowed some clear relief to show when asked about getting his second win of the season. He hadn’t gone past May 21 in any of his first eight full seasons in the majors without getting his second win, and hadn’t won this year since May 15, entering his start against the A’s with a 1-7 record.
"It’s definitely not how you want to go into the break, with just two wins, with a team that’s playing as well as we are," Cain said. "You definitely like to be able to participate a little more, helping out. So that’s something I’ll definitely make sure to do in the second half."
Though the record might not show it, Cain does enter the break on a positive mini-run. In his last three starts, he has allowed four runs in 19 1/3 innings. He said the difference has been better concentration on putting hitters away when he’s ahead in counts. Posey was also asked about the difference in Cain’s recent outings and said:
"He’s throwing the fastball well to both sides of the plate, I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s not only able to throw it on both sides, but he’s throwing it up and down as well, which is really important."
Cain also got some help Wednesday, and acknowledged as much. He received more than two runs of support for just the fourth time in 15 starts. In the sixth, he came up after the singles by Panik and Crawford and failed to get a sacrifice bunt down. But Pence singled to drive in Panik and send Crawford to third, allowing Crawford to score when reliever Eric O’Flaherty bounced a pitch past A’s catcher Derek Norris.
"Hunter picked me up big-time with not getting a bunt down when I needed to," Cain said. But that’s what you’ve got to do to win. You’ve got to find ways to pick up guys, and they did a great job of it."
* The same could be said for the Giants bullpen, as Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla each pitched a scoreless inning in relief of Cain. Casilla got the save, but the night might have been more important for Romo, who struck out Craig Gentry and Yoenis Cespedes in the eighth and seemed to have better command of his slider.
That said, Romo also threw several fastballs to the right-handed Gentry, deviating some from his typical steady dose of sliders. That seemed to please Bochy, who said Romo had a "great sequence I think tonight, mixing it up."
"But probably as important was he was aggressive," Bochy said. "And he didn’t back off and he pounded the strike zone well. He had good stuff. We all have our hiccups. He’s going to get on track, but this was a great start."
* After the game, the Giants reportedly made a roster move, optioning outfielder Juan Perez to Triple-A Fresno to clear a spot for Ehire Adrianza to come off the disabled list. Another move will be upcoming Friday or Saturday, when Marco Scutaro is expected to rejoin the team.
The likeliest candidates to be sent out are Panik or Brandon Hicks, though Panik seems to be making a case to stay. Bochy said Panik’s "thrown out some pretty good at-bats" and played good defense recently. Hicks, meanwhile, is hitless in his last 22 at-bats.
* Cain was also asked about the win moving the Giants back into a first-place tie and said "That’s where you really just can’t ahead of yourself.
"We’ve got to worry about taking series against series, and try to win series. In this case, we’re just worried about winning tomorrow and splitting with these guys."
The Giants will send Tim Hudson (7-5, 2.53) to the mound trying to do so, while the A’s counter with left-hander and All-Star Scott Kazmir (10-3, 2.53). First pitch at 12:45 p.m.
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