Cain's solid effort leads Giants to victory

Cain's solid effort leads Giants to victory

SAN FRANCISCO -- There was yet another change in the Giants' offense Monday night.

The club's new youth movement, of course, is yesterday's news. But San Francisco actually scoring runs for Matt Cain? Now that's giving Bay Area fans something to talk about.

In a 4-2 win against Atlanta in the opener of a three-day set at AT&T Park, the Giants backed Cain with four runs in six innings -- equaling the support they'd given him in his past 36 innings of work.

Cain didn't dominate like he had in his past two starts, walking five while scattering five hits in 6 2/3 innings. But he made enough pitches in enough tight spots to lead San Francisco to its third win in the past four days.

With this young, work-in-progress team, the negative statistics are easy to find. They're 21-34 at home, the worst mark in the Majors. In the dreary National League West, the Giants are a fourth-place club, 10 1/2 games out of first. This win was the first time they've opened a homestand with a victory since April 25.

But here's a number that sheds some light on San Francisco's budding potential: Against sub-.500 teams, the Giants are 24-24. They're playing even against the clubs on their level. Not the most impressive stat, but it's something.

"I don't know how much stock you can put into something like that, but I will say that when you win, obviously, it makes everything get better," Bengie Molina said. "Should we be celebrating things like that? No. But we've won these last three out of four, so that's something."

While Molina rested Monday -- a rare occasion -- six Giants reached base and four different players had RBIs. The San Francisco power outage lasted another day -- it's been 12 games since the last Giants home run -- but Randy Winn, Ivan Ochoa and Steve Holm each had multiple hits.

For the third consecutive start, Cain allowed one run or less. He also helped his own cause offensively.

After Aaron Rowand broke open a scoreless game in the third with an opposite-field single off Jair Jurrjens, John Bowker grounded out to short to score Fred Lewis.

Then Cain, with the elegance of an elephant on a balance beam, scored from second on Ochoa's single in the fourth.

"I felt like I was slow as molasses," said Cain, who slid into home awkwardly to give the Giants their third run. "Us pitchers are athletes," he said before breaking into a grin.

Cain's recent performances have given manager Bruce Bochy reason to smile, too.

In his last 22 2/3 innings, Cain's allowed two runs while striking out 18 batters. He's got a sub-2.00 ERA dating to July 11 and he seems past his up-and-down efforts from May and June.

"Sometimes you just have to find it; a couple of good starts in a row definitely will boost that," Cain said.

Walking five batters was a sore spot, especially considering he hadn't issued a free pass in his past two outings. Cain, though, didn't get rattled, notching his seventh win to match his 2007 total.

"I definitely know that I got in a couple of counts where I got ahead and I probably should've put guys away and I didn't end up doing it," Cain said. "I was just missing sometimes."

The Giants plated one more run in the sixth (Winn's RBI double scored Holm) before Cain found himself in trouble in the seventh. With the bases loaded following a pair of walks and a double, Jack Taschner came in and induced an infield popout to end the threat. Taschner eventually allowed a run, but Tyler Walker retired two batters, including one on a nasty slider to end the eighth. Brian Wilson tossed a perfect ninth to notch his NL-leading 31st save.

"That's what you need from your late-inning guys," Bochy said. "The pitching was there, timely hitting, just a very, very well-played game by us."

It's difficult to get overly excited about a 47-64 record. But defensive performances like second baseman Emmanuel Burriss', solid overall outings by Holm and two hits and a walk by Ochoa are enough to inspire tempered optimism about the future.

Some of the club's veterans might soon be on the move, with Tuesday marking the first day that Giants players officially can clear waivers and be traded. But while the veterans are around, the youngsters are going to learn.

"Defensively and offensively," Ochoa said. "I'm fortunate to be around veterans like Omar Vizquel. I know I can ask anything."

David Biderman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.