Cain's solid start falls by wayside

Cain's solid start falls by wayside

SAN FRANCISCO -- The familiar story when Matt Cain pitches -- an absence of run support -- came with a boldfaced footnote on Saturday.

Facing Oakland's Rich Harden, the Giants were destined for a low-scoring night, anyway.

Harden showed the Giants what it's like to confront a pitcher of Tim Lincecum's caliber -- or Cain on one of his better days, for that matter. The A's right-hander, who fires 97-mph fastballs as if he were shooting free throws, limited San Francisco to one hit in six innings as Oakland prevailed, 4-0.

"I don't know if we've seen better stuff this year," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Harden.

The sickening twin trends continued for the Giants. They dropped their fifth consecutive Interleague contest to their cross-bay rivals and sixth in their last seven. Meanwhile, their Major League-worst home record fell to 13-21.

"This is a place we have to take advantage of," Cain said. "It's a great place to pitch."

Especially when the game begins at 6:11 p.m. PT, as this one did, and hitters have to contend with shadows and shafts of sunlight criss-crossing the infield. Cain struck out a season-high 11, including eight in the first three innings. Harden amassed six of his season-best nine strikeouts over the same juncture.

"Those 5- or 6-o'clock starts are no fun," Giants center fielder Aaron Rowand said. Asked if such starting times should be banned, Rowand replied, "If I had to vote, yes. I'd say if you took a poll in this clubhouse, you'd have 12 [pitchers] say 'No,' and 13 [position players] say 'Yes.'"

But Cain and Harden probably would have thrived under normal illumination.

"It's hard enough to recognize a pitch -- fastball or split -- when you're under regular conditions against him," Rowand said of Harden (4-0). "He's got great stuff. You add in the elements the first couple of times around the order, and it makes it that much tougher."

Harden did not permit a Giant to reach scoring position. After yielding Randy Winn's clean two-out, ground-ball single in the first inning, Harden retired the next eight batters until Winn walked in the fourth inning. The only other baserunner against Harden was Fred Lewis, who walked in the sixth inning and was thrown out trying to steal second base.

The Giants finished with six hits, bringing their two-day total against Oakland to one run and 11 hits. This must look familiar to Cain, whose teammates have scored no more than one run for him in 19 of his 47 starts (40.4 percent) since the beginning of last year.

"It's tough," Cain said. "I feel a lot of times I go up against guys who are going to give up hardly any runs or hardly any hits, too. It's not like anybody's trying to pick on me ... I feel like there were games I've lost [personally]."

Cain (3-5), who yielded three runs and six hits while working one batter into the eighth inning, acknowledged that he felt as good as he has all year.

"That's what's disappointing," Cain said. "I felt like I had great stuff today and I had some pitches that came back to get me."

Cain might have been a little hard on himself, since each run he surrendered was tainted.

Ryan Sweeney blooped a one-out single in the first inning, not far from where shortstop Omar Vizquel robbed him of a hit on a similar ball Friday. Jack Cust's double into the right-field corner scored Sweeney. "The pitch [to Cust] was supposed to be inside and I threw it almost down the middle," Cain said.

Oakland scored again in the seventh after Kurt Suzuki's one-out triple on a sinking line drive that eluded a diving Rowand and scooted to the outfield wall. Daric Barton followed with a sacrifice fly.

Rowand refused to second-guess himself for gambling on Suzuki's hit.

"That's how I play. I play aggressively," Rowand said. "Sometimes it doesn't work out completely the way you want it to. But if I had to do it over again in that situation, I'd try to catch it again. You can't look back and say, dang it, I wish I would have done that. That's one if I just sat back and played it on a bounce, I would have been questioning whether I should have gone and got it."

The A's added an eighth-inning run. Mark Ellis singled, ending Cain's evening. Sweeney popped up a bunt that reliever Jack Taschner dived for but dropped, resulting in another single. Cust's fielder's-choice grounder -- which forced Sweeney at second base, although television replays showed he was clearly safe -- moved Ellis to third and put him in position to score on Taschner's wild pitch.

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