Cain solidifies place among postseason elite

Cain solidifies place among postseason elite

SAN FRANCISCO -- He doesn't have the catchy nickname or the Cy Young hardware on his household shelf. He doesn't stand out with trademark long hair, and he isn't weeks away from a contract that will put him in a tax bracket hardly ever touched.

But in a postseason in which the likes of Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee seemed sure to steal all attention on the mound, Matt Cain has assumed a spot among the postseason's elite.

Hardly a no-name himself, Cain pitched brilliantly on Thursday, leading the Giants to a 9-0 win and a 2-0 World Series lead over the Rangers with 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Combined with his previous two postseason outings, that is now 21 1/3 innings in which the 26-year-old right-hander has not allowed an earned run.

"That's probably the best I've ever seen him pitch," said second baseman Freddy Sanchez, a teammate since last summer. "He doesn't get much recognition, but we all know how good he is."


A few million more should know by now, too.

"I've said this before: He's probably been the most consistent pitcher really from Day 1," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of his starter, who has posted a 3.27 ERA over the past three seasons. "He's such a bulldog out there. He's taken charge, and he's the guy we want out there in a big game."

Cain is now one of five pitchers to toss at least 20 innings in one postseason and not allow an earned run. Last done by Kenny Rogers in 2006, the feat was also accomplished by a pair of former Giants -- Christy Mathewson (27 innings in 1905) and Carl Hubbell (20 innings in '33).

Only seven other pitchers have made three consecutive postseason starts without giving up an earned run, and Cain is just the fourth to achieve that in his first three chances. The last to do so was Jon Matlack with the Mets in '73.

"You know, it's been feeling good," Cain said. "[Catcher] Buster [Posey] has done a great job of really pushing me to throw pitches in different counts, so I owe a ton of credit to him. But we've just been really trying to work ahead of the guys in every start I've had."

He threw a first-pitch strike to just 15 of the 29 batters he faced in this one, but that hardly knocked Cain out of sorts. He breezed through the first four frames, with a one-out single in the fourth standing as the only blemish.

Cain caught a break in the fifth when Ian Kinsler's leadoff shot to center bounced off the top of the wall and back into play. What the right-hander assumed was a sure home run was only a double. And he made sure Kinsler never budged from second.

Cain continues to cruise
Matt Cain's game-by-game playoff stats
Date Opp. IP H ER BB SO
10/28/10 Tex. 7 2/3 4 0 2 2
10/19/10 Phi. 7 2 0 3 5
10/8/10 Atl. 6 2/3 7 0 2 6
Totals 21 1/3 13 0 7 13

"He made some good pitches when he had to," Texas third baseman Michael Young said. "We have some guys we have a lot of confidence in, and he made big pitches to them."

Such was the case again in the sixth.

With Cain clinging to a one-run lead, a pair of singles and a wild pitch moved two Texas runners into scoring position. Cain responded by inducing a popup from Nelson Cruz -- who entered the night having hit safely in each of his 12 career postseason games -- and then garnering an inning-ending flyout.

After limiting the Braves and Phillies to a combined 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in San Francisco's previous two series, Cain kept the Rangers hitless in seven such opportunities on Thursday.

"You saw him really bear down there," Posey said, speaking specifically to the sixth-inning jam. "[He] really executed his pitches really well against Cruz and Kinsler. He commanded the fastball on both sides of the plate and really just, I mean, he executed his pitches."

Cain's success with runners on should hardly be surprising by now. Just ask his former catcher.

"That's the same Cain," said Bengie Molina, now with the Rangers. "He pounds the zone. He goes right at you from the get-go. He hits the corners when he has to."

Among pitchers with at least 300 batters faced, only Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo has held opponents to a lower batting average with runners in scoring position than has Cain (.193) since the start of '09.

Cain's dazzling start put the Giants on track to shut out Texas for just the sixth time this year. It also boosted San Francisco to a commanding Series lead that has moved history over to the Giants' side. Of the last 11 home teams to win the first two games of the Fall Classic, each has gone on to capture the Commissioner's Trophy.

"He's my pick for a postseason MVP for us," reliever Javier Lopez said. "He's taken the ball every time and done more than you would expect. These are high-pressure spots."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.