SAN FRANCISCO -- Don't let the mussy mop underneath the cap and the peachfuzz on his face fool you: Matt Cain is a crusty, old veteran.
When Cain steps to the mound Thursday for Game 2 of the World Series, he does so as the graybeard of the Giants' rotation -- at 26 as of Oct. 1, actually younger than both Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez, but older in terms of time in the big leagues.
Having made his debut at age 20 in 2005, Cain has five-plus seasons under his belt, making him the longest-tenured player on the Giants roster. With veteran Barry Zito off the roster throughout the postseason, there's no other Giants starter with more Major League experience than Cain as he prepares to meet Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson.
Cain enters his Game 2 start with a 1-0 advantage thanks to the Giants' 11-7 victory in the opener Wednesday, putting the veteran of the rotation in position to give his club a commanding edge in the World Series.
"You like Cainer against pretty much anybody," said catcher Buster Posey. "The guy goes out and competes every time, and I don't think we'll see anything less than that."
After all, Cain sets the competitive tone for this rotation, in large part because he's the guy who's been around the longest.
It's a homegrown group, and as the first one of them to reach the big leagues, Cain by extension endured more of the transition from losing as part of a youth movement to winning as part of a World Series team than anyone.
"We've always felt like we had a good group of guys here ever since I've been here," Cain said. "We've had our tough times, and we've always gone through our good spurts and our bad spurts. But obviously this year has changed where we've gone through our bad spurts but haven't worried about it, just popped right back out of it, whereas in years past we might have sat in those ruts for a little bit longer. I think that's what has made this year special.
Key stat: Eight postseason walks are second-most of all pitchers
Key stat: Only remaining postseason starter with perfect ERA (0 runs in 13 2/3 innings)
2010: 3 GS, 1-1, 3.93 ERA Career: 3 GS, 1-1, 3.93 ERA
2010: 2 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA Career: 2 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA
At AT&T Park
2010: 18 GS, 9-4, 2.60 ERA Career: 92 GS, 34-30, 3.11 ERA
Against this opponent
2010: N/A Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 1.13 ERA
Loves to face: Cody Ross (0-for-3, 1 K) Hates to face: Pat Burrell (2-for-2, 2 2Bs)
Loves to face: Jeff Francoeur (0-for-14)
Hates to face: Ian Kinsler (2-for-4, HR)
Why he'll win: Has dominant, overpowering stuff
Why he'll win: Including regular season, has allowed zero runs in four of his last six starts
Pitcher beware: Is 2-2 with 6.95 ERA in five starts following outings in which he's allowed five or more runs this season
Pitcher beware: Rangers lineup is toughest he's faced since late September
Bottom line: Must bounce back
Bottom line: On a roll
"But it's also helped, I think, a ton of us to get out of those ruts this year because of stuff we've gone through in the past."
Thing is, Cain is the one who has been the picture of consistency for most of his career. Often, it's been a lack of offensive support that has haunted him, including a Major League-low 3.14 runs per start in 2008. He took 16 losses the year before despite a 3.65 ERA that ranked 10th in the National League. He's one of six San Francisco pitchers to post four consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings, and in 2010 he topped out at 223 1/3 innings. With two shutouts and a 3.14 ERA in the regular season, he might be considered as much as two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner Lincecum for the league's top pitching honor.
Cain has embraced the postseason as well, delivering strong work into the seventh inning in a no-decision vs. the Braves in the Division Series before putting on a dominant performance in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series, allowing two hits and a walk and hitting two batters in seven innings. Cain is the first postseason starter to allow no earned runs in each of his first two postseason starts since the Braves' Steve Avery did it in 1991.
"I think it's a case with a lot of pitchers -- it's command," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It certainly applies to Matt Cain when he's doing well. He's commanding his fastball and his secondary pitches, he's throwing strikes and he's getting it where he wants. That's what's made him a different pitcher, I think. He has evolved to a complete pitcher from what he was at a younger age when he was pretty much a power guy. He's got a good slider, curveball and changeup. He has good command of them, and when he does, that's when he pitches well."
Cain enters his Thursday start with an advantage of having seen the Rangers swing the bats against Lincecum, who lasted into the sixth inning without necessarily his best stuff.
"Yeah, I definitely think it will [help] kind of seeing a little bit of their game plan against Timmy and kind of just watching a little bit of their at-bats," Cain said.
Staying on a consistent course can be a challenge in October. Three starts in the span of 28 days obviously isn't Cain's normal routine, but he said he's holding up fine.
"You make a little bit of a new routine in between the starts," Cain said. "You try to stay on your same running program, and if you have to add a bullpen here and there, you do what you have to do."
Spoken like a true veteran. And even if he's young, that's what he is -- a veteran.
He showed that earlier this season in the transition between veteran catcher Bengie Molina and rookie Posey, according to pitching coach Dave Righetti.
"I think Matt Cain helped a lot," Righetti said. "It sounds weird, because he's only 26 but been here six years, but once Cain said, 'Hey, I totally trust this guy,' I think that helped. Whether it was [Madison] Bumgarner or any of the young pitchers who came up here, I think that had to help. Speaking out of experience in a clubhouse, if you see a guy who makes start after start and it's, 'OK, that guy trusts him, let's go.'"
They followed Cain down a road that has seen Posey emerge as a tremendous catcher, an everyday part of the staff down the stretch and into the postseason.
Like many of his young teammates, Cain continues to mature as he goes through his first postseason, and that experience is something he shares with all the rest who have come after him on the Giants' road to the World Series.
"I think it's really made the group of guys we have grow together and really lean on each other," Cain said. "'Hey, let's be confident in everybody,' and everybody feels like they can all get a job done somehow."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.