Follow the leader: Cain can set tone for Giants
Right-hander the only Game 1 choice for Bochy as team begins postseason run
SAN FRANCISCO -- It was T-shirt weather here on Friday afternoon, with plenty of black-and-orange apparel seen on the streets, particularly at the corner of King and 3rd, just outside the main entrance to AT&T Park.
The shirt of choice for many fans paid reverence to the Giants' starter for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Reds on Saturday -- Matt Cain.
One shirt was emblazoned with big, bold letters: "Yes We Cain." Another read: "Cain Is Able." One more essentially encapsulated in four words how the Giants -- fans and front office alike -- feel about the man who will take the ball to begin the postseason -- "In Cain We Trust."
- 2012 Regular Season
- Overall: 33 GS, 19-9, 2.78 ERA, 49 BB, 170 K's
- Overall: 32 GS, 16-5, 2.79 ERA, 51 BB, 193 K's
- Key stat: Allow one earned run in five innings in only postseason start in 2010
- Key stat: Didn't allow an earned run in 21 1/3 innings in three 2010 playoff starts
- At AT&T Park
- 2012: 1 GS, 0-1,
Career: 2 GS, 1-1, 1.38 ERA
- 2012: 15 GS, 8-3, 2.03 ERA
Career: 121 GS, 47-38, 2.98 ERA
- Against this opponent
- 2012: 1 GS, 0-1,
Career: 4 GS, 2-1, 1.93 ERA
- 2012: 2 GS, 0-2, 5.54 ERA
Career: 10 GS, 4-5, 3.54 ERA
- Loves to face:
Pablo Sandoval, 1-for-9
Hates to face: Xavier Nady 5-for-8, 3 RBI
- Loves to face: Drew Stubbs, 1-
for-11, 4 K's
Hates to face: Jay Bruce, 6-for-13, 4 RBI
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: He isn't fazed away from home -- has a 2.77 ERA on the road this season
- Why he'll win: Came up big in three 2010 postseason starts, not allowing an earned run
- Pitcher beware: His 3.26 ERA in the second half is nearly a run higher than his 2.36 ERA before the break
- Pitcher beware: Allowed 250 fly balls this season and could be trouble for long-ball-loving Reds
- Bottom line: Nullify Giants home-field advantage
- Bottom line: Continue 2010 clutch pitching
In the eyes of his manager, Bruce Bochy, Cain was the only choice to begin what the Giants hope will be a blissful sprint through the playoffs like the one they enjoyed in 2010, which ended with the sticky-sweet taste of champagne that goes with winning a World Series title.
"The thing that I can take from 2010 is the excitement of playing in the postseason and trying to rekindle that," Cain said. "The postseason is so much fun."
It certainly was for Cain, who went 2-0 in three playoff starts in 2010 and didn't allow a run -- not against the Braves in the NLDS, the Phillies in the NL Championship Series, even against the thumpers in the Rangers' lineup during that World Series.
And now Cain, 28, is ready to do it all over again, beginning on Saturday at 6:37 p.m. PT, when he faces the Reds, who managed to make Cain look downright pedestrian during two regular-season starts, the last coming at AT&T Park on June 29, when the Reds ambushed him for five runs on 11 hits.
Just don't expect him to spend hours trying to dissect what went wrong in that particular outing, or the one on April 24, a loss to the Reds on the road in his fourth start of the season.
"My goal with a team that's patient is to make good, quality strikes. I'm trying to go out there and throw good pitches and use their over-aggressiveness to my advantage," Cain said.
That will be critical on Saturday against a Reds lineup that has a handful of hitters who have had success against him, including Ryan Ludwick (.364 with three home runs), Joey Votto (.304) and Jay Bruce (.462).
"Sometimes you might over-think things," Cain said. "If you go back, most of the times when you give up runs, it's mostly poor execution of location, so you really try to make better pitches."
That hasn't been a problem for Cain this season, as he went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA in 32 starts. Opposing batters hit .222 against him, and he might be pitching his best baseball of the season, heading to the postseason having gone 6-0 with a 2.28 ERA in his last 10 starts.
"He is just so consistent -- not just his pitching but his attitude, because he's been through a lot," said Bochy, referring to Cain's early career, when he lost 12 or more games over three consecutive seasons (2006 to 2008) thanks, in no small part, to a paltry offense backing him.
But better days were ahead for Cain, many of them this season, making the six-year, $127.5 million deal that he signed look like a smart move for all parties involved. Cain tossed a perfect game against the Astros on June 13 and was later named the starter for the NL All-Star team.
"He throws four pitches for strikes and he knows how to set up guys. He can throw any pitch in any count, and I, as a hitter, can tell you how tough it is to face guys who can do that," said shortstop Brandon Crawford.
"I just think he's one of the elite pitchers in the game right now."