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Cain pitches game of career to subdue Phillies

Cain pitches game of career to subdue Phillies

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Giants manager Bruce Bochy comes to the mound, he usually doesn't chat with the pitcher. He'll send out pitching coach Dave Righetti for that. But with Matt Cain having thrown upward of 110 pitches while working on a scoreless two-hitter in the seventh inning against the Phillies on Tuesday, chat Bochy did.

Cain had hit Carlos Ruiz and walked pinch-hitter Ross Gload. There were two out, Shane Victorino was due up, and Bochy was mulling whether he should give Cain one more batter.

"Really, more than anything I just wanted to check on him, to see where he was at," Bochy said. "He worked pretty hard. The pitch count was up there. That was his last hitter, and somehow he found a way to get a big out for us."

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Here's how the conversation sounded to Cain: "He just asked me how I was feeling, just kind of instilling some confidence in me. It didn't sound like he wanted to take me out of the game. He wanted me to make my pitches and get that guy out."

Cain responded. On pitch No. 119, Victorino grounded to second base and the Phillies never had another scoring opportunity. Game, set and match. With that, the Giants won Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, 3-0, to take a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series that continues at AT&T Park on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. PT, on FOX.

It was Cain's first postseason win and first ever at any time against the Phillies. He has been lights-out this postseason in two starts as his numbers attest: 13 2/3 innings, nine hits, no earned runs. He hit two batters and walked three on Tuesday, which means the Phillies still had seven baserunners but could do nothing with them. Three times, runners traveled as far as second base, but to no avail.

2-1 lead in NLCS play
With the Giants' victory in Game 3, an NLCS stands at 2-1 for the 20th time since it became a best-of-seven series in 1985. Fifteen of the previous 19 teams went on to win its NLCS.
Year Team up 2-1 Opponent Final
2010 Giants Phillies
2009 Phillies Dodgers 4-1
2008 Phillies Dodgers 4-1
2006 Cardinals Mets 4-3
2005 Astros Cardinals 4-3
2004 Cardinals Astros 4-3
2003 Cubs Marlins 4-3
2002 Giants Cardinals 4-1
2001 D-backs Braves 4-1
2000 Mets Cardinals 4-1
1997 Marlins Braves 4-2
1996 Cardinals Braves 4-3
1993 Braves Phillies 4-2
1992 Braves Pirates 4-3
1991 Braves Pirates 4-3
1990 Reds Pirates 4-2
1989 Giants Cubs 4-1
1988 Mets Dodgers 4-3
1987 Cardinals Giants 4-3
1986 Mets Astros 4-2
Winners of the NLCS listed in bold.

"When [Cain] was in trouble he got even better, it seemed like," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

Asked what he thought of Cain's performance, Manuel quipped dryly in his gravely Virginia accent: "I thought Cain was too good. He didn't give us any runs."

Cain, who just turned 26, has the longest tenure of any player on the current Giants roster, let alone the starting staff, coming up for good in 2006. As the Barry Bonds era petered out a year later, there hadn't been many big games to pitch, until this season. Cain is obviously making the most of it.

"I think this is probably the top one I've ever pitched," Cain said. "To be able to pitch in the postseason is great, and to be able to throw the ball well and help your team win is a great feeling."

Cain also bested Cole Hamels, who only two years ago was the MVP of both the NLCS and World Series as the Phillies won it all for the second time in club history. Hamels didn't pitch poorly on Tuesday, allowing three runs on five hits with a walk and eight strikeouts. But the Phillies are supposed to hit. The Giants are not.

"He's a true competitor," Hamels said about Cain. "He knows how to throw the fastball by you. He knows how to locate that fastball. And then there's his slider -- it's a very good pitch. He was keeping it down in the zone, and then just when you thought a certain pitch would come, he would throw in a changeup. That's what it really takes. He's been able to do that time and time again and year after year."

Postseason shutouts
Most shutouts in a single postseason:
Year Shutouts Games GM/SHO
1981 8 32 4.0
2001 7 35 5.0
2010 6 21 3.5
2006 6 30 5.0
1998 6 30 5.0

On the Giants staff, much of the attention, of course, has been paid to Tim Lincecum, the NL's Cy Young Award winner the past two years. But Cain is a workhorse, having averaged 219 innings a year for the past five years. He is certainly durable, and despite a 13-11 record this season, he was probably San Francisco's most consistent pitcher.

It's the reason why Bochy had so much confidence in Cain to get Victorino out in that key situation.

"[Tuesday's game] has got to be right up there with the best of them [for Matt]," Bochy said. "He worked pretty hard, but he can log some pitches. I mean, what a great job he did."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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