OAKLAND -- There was never a doubt that Giants rookie pitcher Matt Cain could fire a baseball with hypersonic speed, but the trouble was his brain synapses were surging with too much voltage as well. As in being too up, being too amped. That resulted in a disappointing, what's-wrong-with-the-kid 1-5 record, a four-game winless streak, faulty mechanics and a blubbery 6.69 ERA for the promising 21-year-old, but while Cain avoided yoga meditation and Zen-like chanting, he did learn to keep his emotions in check on the mound.
Relaxation was the key, and armed with his great stuff and a new mindset, Cain put the Oakland A's to sleep, 6-0, on Sunday at McAfee Coliseum, on a brilliant one-hitter and his first Major League shutout, helping San Francisco take the series, 2-1. "Whatever they did, they did a great job, Dr. Righetti and Dr. Gardner -- that's 11 scoreless innings with his two-inning tuneup in Houston," said Alou of pitching coach Dave Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner's "treatment," if not cure-all, to what had ailed Cain. Cain said earlier he had to calm down and think more than emote, not overthrow, and Alou said the youngster had to understand "he is here to help and not carry the load. He's a high-strung guy, he's a bulldog out there. "I saw some 97s, 98s [on the radar gun] and that can quieten down a lot of hitters when they look at the radar reading," said Alou. "And he dropped a couple of nasty curveballs. Today I saw better command of the fastball, and from there, everything else was better -- the changeup, the curve. His balance on the mound was the best we've seen from that kid." Cain, who seems pretty much the same postgame regardless of results, was buoyed by his performance, but still seemed matter-of-fact, hardly whooping and hollering after his best outing in the big leagues. "The big thing was getting strike one," said the right-hander, who also said he kept his pitches down in the zone -- high pitches had been his nemesis -- and didn't try to overthrow. "I was also able to use my changeup. Of the pitches we used, I was able to throw them for strikes and it was a definite confidence booster. "The work definitely paid off." Said Cain of the sideline work and strategy sessions: "It helped a ton. It seemed like I hadn't pitched in forever, but it was good for me because it got me to sit back and think and evaluate hitters during the game." Still, Cain is smart enough to realize taking the good-medicine pill wasn't a one-time thing. "It's fun for now, but we gotta keep going -- it's a long season," he said.Cain had a bit of trouble in the third inning, when Jay Payton doubled to right field and, with two out, Jason Kendall and Nick Swisher drew walks to load the bases. Call him Mr. Cool, for Cain erased the threat by inducing Mark Kotsay into a groundout to first, and little did anyone realize at the time that Payton's blow would be the lone Athletics hit. Oakland starter Joe Blanton (4-5) allowed a run in the first inning when Randy Winn and Omar Vizquel singled, with Ray Durham's groundout bringing Winn home. Blanton settled down, but not for long, as San Francisco erupted for four fourth-inning runs, thanks to Mark Sweeney's two-run double and Winn's two-out, two-RBI single. That would certainly make a young hurler relax, and veteran catcher Mike Matheny gave Cain all the credit for a brilliant effort, explaining the kid's stuff has always been good, but he had pitched behind in the count too much. "I told him before he was going through a test for a young guy, see how he bounces back when you can't explain how things are going in a bad direction," said Matheny. "So he stayed with it, and I'm real proud of him -- he didn't try to invent the wheel, took a little break, did a good job in Houston and kept it rolling today." With the victory, the Giants have won four of their last five games, and at 23-21 are two games above .500 for the first time since April 30. Vizquel was taken out of the game after seven innings with mild tightness in his groin, but said he'd be OK for Monday's 7:15 p.m. PT game at AT&T Park against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.