SAN FRANCISCO – The storm system pushed to the doorstep of AT&T Park Wednesday night, but the skies remained clear and dry when Matt Cain walked off the mound to a standing ovation.
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Who truly knows what the weather will bring? Cain could find himself skipped in the rotation later this season, shuttled in and out or replaced by a younger model. Any start could be the last for the longest tenured Giant, one of the most accomplished pitchers in the franchise’s San Francisco era. Like the storm, Tyler Beede is coming.
So perhaps there was something extra behind those cheers that Cain received when he took his town sheriff turn off the mound and toward the dugout with the Giants leading 3-1 in the sixth inning.
Cain doubled to start a three-run fifth and Jarrett Parker found his release in the form of a two-run triple through the rain in a three-run seventh as the Giants took a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Giants took two of three from the NL West leaders – their first series win in three tries – and after a challenging first road trip, their record stands at 4-6. They’ll try to climb from there as they throw the top of their rotation against the Colorado Rockies.
Cain no longer sits at the top of that rotation. He is merely trying to keep a place there.
His next turn falls on a day off. Bruce Bochy said Cain would not be skipped. The right-hander will take the ball Tuesday at Kansas City. When a manager has a predilection for loyalty, he doesn’t need to see much to be convinced.
“Well, I think it’s something he’s earned,” Bochy said. “You look at what he’s done for us. We’ve got some championships because of this guy. Some guys earn certain things.
“I go back to Barry Zito. He had his ups and downs, but we stayed with him, and he helped us win a World Series (in 2012), with those starts at St. Louis and then against Detroit. I feel the same about Matty. I think we all do. He’s well liked. He’s a Giant. He’s a big part of our success. He deserves a longer look.”
As Cain walked off the mound, there was an audible appreciation that went beyond his performance, in which he overcame a tight strike zone to hold the Arizona Diamondbacks to a run on five hits in six innings.
Even those fans who want to put Cain out to pasture had to savor another opportunity to celebrate the pitcher who authored the only perfect game in franchise history, formed an essential part of two World Series-winning rotations and quietly shined for years while riding in Tim Lincecum’s sidecar.
“There’s nothing better than to be able to hear that from the fans,” Cain said. “It’s greatly appreciated.”
Cain even helped himself avoid a ritual Caining – one of those 26 starts mostly from his youth when he lost despite giving up two runs or fewer.
His double in the fifth inning started the Giants’ three run rally against right-hander Shelby Miller. Cain swiveled his hips, swung his bat like a Big Bertha and sweet-spotted a 94 mph fastball, placing it on the fairway so well it split the outfielders in left-center.
Then Cain and new third base coach Phil Nevin conspired to score from second base on Denard Span’s single to center.
The Giants added from there. Brandon Belt walked, Hunter Pence took a broomstick swing at an outside pitch and poked it to right field for an RBI single, and Conor Gillaspie, making his first start of the season, singled to left to plate another run.
With the rain moving in, the game became official the moment the Giants took the lead.
It didn’t start out with such promise. Cain’s first pitch of the night resulted in a triple, along with an audible groan as fans settled into their seats. A.J. Pollock scored on a sacrifice fly. For those susceptible to confirmation bias, that was enough.
With days off Monday and next Thursday, it appeared automatic that the Giants would skip Cain at least once – especially since starting Madison Bumgarner Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium would line up the ace to take the mound April 24 when the Dodgers arrive to begin a four-game series here.
Cain wasn’t sure how to answer a question about pitching for his job, saying, “If I’m thinking about that, I’m in the wrong frame of mind, big time.”
Instead, he might have changed minds among the coaching staff and front office. His fastball touched 92 mph as he pitched around an error in the second inning, he struck out Paul Goldschmdit in the third and bottled up a Diamondbacks offense that has proven tough to tame thus far.
Over one three-inning stretch, he retired nine of 10 batters and struck out six of them.
Bochy came out to collect the baseball in the sixth, after Jake Lamb threaded a double and Yasmany Tomas walked.
“Really, really nice moment there,” Bochy said of the ovation for Cain. “I know Matty’s been through a lot. He’s really battling to get back on track. The first game was so-so, and tonight was a lot better. There was life on the fastball, he had good secondary pitches and he got us going with his double.
“It’s a great night for Matty and it’s great to see how the fans got behind him and were excited for him.”
Cory Gearrin ensured the moment would not be washed away. His sinker, designed for double-play grounders, showed sharper teeth. He struck out the side.
“It’s nice to be back in San Francisco where the ball can sink and move a little bit,” Gearrin said. “I’m healthy and I’m feeling great. As a bullpen, it’s exciting to see Cain go out there and really set the tone for us.”
George Kontos took over in the seventh as the rain arrived and blew sideways at times, and he weathered it well in a scoreless inning.
If Gearrin and Kontos benefited from stomach-settling performances to establish themselves, then Parker’s night had to feel especially soothing. He crushed a two-run triple that carried through the weather and off the top of the center field wall to key a three-run seventh inning.
Giants left fielders had combined for three total bases all season after Parker had singled through an infield shift an inning earlier. Then Parker matched that total with one swing in the seventh.
“Good for Park because I think he’s been pressing a little bit,” Bochy said. “Against the wind, I mean, that ball was crushed. It’s tough for these kids. They all want to get off to a good start.”
Catcher Nick Hundley hit a ball even harder in the three-run rally. He ripped an outside fastball to right field and straight through a flag-whipping wind, and the ball hit off the bricks for an RBI double. In calmer conditions, it likely would’ve been an ultra-rare opposite-field home run by a right-handed hitter – a good sign, perhaps, that Hundley’s skills will translate well here, especially while Buster Posey is on the 7-day concussion list.
Posey could rejoin the team as early as Tuesday. Somebody has to catch the longest tenured Giant.