Matt Cain had not had a major-league hit in more than two years when he came up in the second inning Saturday against Cubs left-hander Jon Lester and golfed a full-count pitch to the warning track in straightaway center field for a two-out, two-run double.
It ended one drought for Cain and helped the Giants right-hander snap another more significant one. Cain pitched six strong innings to earn his first win since last July, ending a streak of 15 winless starts, while a short-handed Giants lineup knocked Lester out in the third inning of a 5-3 win over the Cubs at AT&T Park.
“When you haven’t had one in a year,” Cain said of the win, “it’s pretty nice to have.”
Critically for the Giants, Cain continued to improve on his poor start to the season. Each of his last three outings has been a quality start, as he held the Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Cubs to a combined four runs in 21 innings, lowering his season ERA from 7.84 to 5.37 in the process.
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“He had that good tempo, that rhythm going today,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s good to see him gain traction the way he has. He’s a big part of this staff. We need our starters to give us a chance, and he’s more than doing that.”
The Cubs put seven men on base in the first three innings against Cain, but only one scored as Kris Bryant hit a solo homer in the third inning. Cain retired 10 of his last 11 batters, responding after Ben Zobrist’s leadoff single in the sixth inning by striking out Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Addison Russell, the latter on his 105th and final pitch.
Five relievers combined to preserve the win for Cain. Javier Lopez entered with two on and two outs in the eighth inning and struck out right-handed hitter Tim Federowicz as the potential tying run. Closer Santiago Casilla allowed a Dexter Fowler home run in the ninth before retiring the next three batters to save the Giants’ ninth win in 10 games.
Bochy said Cain’s winless streak, during which he’d owned a 6.17 ERA and the Giants were 3-12, was “bothering him, I’m sure,” and that he hopes Cain’s “confidence … has soared here in the last three starts.”
Cain said he has done a better job of making pitches in key situations lately, but wasn’t ready to declare himself “back” after three good starts.
“I think that’d be a bad thing for me,” Cain said. “I think the biggest thing is to stay pushing and keep finding ways to get better.”
Cain was happy, though, to snap a hitless streak of 46 at-bats that was the longest running in the National League. He ironically did so against Lester, who entered with the fourth-best ERA in the National League at 1.88 but allowed a season-high five runs to a Giants lineup that was missing Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan to sore hamstrings, and had utility infielder Kelby Tomlinson hitting third and playing left field for the first time in professional ball.
After Brandon Crawford hit a two-out dribbler for an infield single in the second inning, Lester appeared to pitch around Gregor Blanco for a walk that brought up Cain, whose first hit since May 10, 2014 – a bunt single off then-Dodgers starter Zack Greinke – gave the Giants a 2-0 lead.
“I was wanting him to auto-take,” catcher Buster Posey said, grinning. “I was hoping maybe (Lester would) throw him a ball and turn it over to (leadoff hitter Denard) Span. Shows how much I know.”
Bryant’s home run cut the lead in half, but Joe Panik led off the bottom of the third with a double and scored when Posey hammered a 2-1 pitch from Lester into the left-field seats for his first home run since May 1, a span of 62 at-bats. Matt Duffy singled, stole second and scored on a Trevor Brown single for the Giants’ final run.
Cain’s double was his first extra-base hit since 2012, when he homered off Cole Hamels. Of his two dubious streaks – winless and hitless – which was he happier to see end?
“They’re probably really comparable,” Cain said. “I think I just got lucky (on the hit), ran into one there. But it was definitely nice to be able to go out there and give the guys a good chance to win.”