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Giants' Cain is quintessential big-game pitcher

Giants' Cain is quintessential big-game pitcher

Giants' Cain is quintessential big-game pitcher
DETROIT -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy, looking to nail down a second World Series title in the past three seasons for San Francisco, believes in the existence of the clutch player.

While serious debate over this matter simmers in the statistical community, Bochy's vast experience convinces him certain athletes are able to elevate their performance levels when it matters most, when the heat is on.

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Giants ace Matt Cain, who started the All-Star Game for the victorious National League in Kansas City, fits the description, bringing comfort to Bochy in big games.

They don't come much bigger than Game 4 of the World Series, unfolding on Sunday evening (5 p.m. PT air time/5:15 first pitch on FOX) at Comerica Park. Max Scherzer will furnish the opposition for the American League champion Tigers, who will be attempting to avoid a sweep following the Giants' 2-0 victory in Game 3.

Cain, who won the clinching games in the NL Division Series against the Reds and the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals, is in position to be the second pitcher to close three series with victories in a single postseason. Derek Lowe did it for the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

Tale of the Tape: Game 4
Matt Cain
Giants
Max Scherzer
Tigers
2012 regular season
Overall: 32 GS, 16-5, 2.79 ERA, 51 BB, 193 K Overall: 32 GS, 16-7, 3.74 ERA, 60 BB, 231 K
Key stat: Cain's start in Game 7 of the NLCS was his first scoreless outing of the postseason. Key stat: Scherzer has struck out 18 batters over 11 innings in his two starts this postseason.
At Comerica Park
2012: N/A
Career: N/A
2012: 14 GS, 7-3, 3.51 ERA
Career: 47 GS, 23-11, 3.45 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: N/A
Career: N/A
2012: N/A
Career: 4 GS, 1-3, 5.12 ERA
Loves to face: Miguel Cabrera: 1-for-6, 2 K
Hates to face: Prince Fielder: 5-for-18
Loves to face: Pablo Sandoval: 2-for-8, 4 K
Hates to face: Marco Scutaro: 4-for-9
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Cain has a career 1.83 postseason ERA. Why he'll win: Scherzer has struck out 18 batters while walking only three this postseason.
Pitcher beware: Cain's road ERA this season was 3.56, up from his 2.03 home ERA. Pitcher beware: Scherzer hasn't pitched since Game 4 of the ALCS on Oct. 18. This season, he had a 5.27 ERA on more than six days of rest.
Bottom line: The Giants will send their ace to the mound in Game 4 in the midst of a brilliant stretch of postseason starts. Bottom line: Scherzer will be pitching after a long layoff, though he has blown batters away in his two starts this postseason.

"I think your great players, for the most part, are those types of [clutch] players," Bochy said. "They seem to play better when the club needs them. The higher the stakes, the more they do to elevate their game -- hitters, pitchers. And I certainly would put Matt Cain in that class."

In seven postseason starts, Cain is 4-2 with a 1.83 ERA across 44 1/3 innings. He was virtually perfect during the Giants' 2010 championship run, touched for one unearned run across 21 1/3 innings. Winning his World Series start, he held the formidable Rangers scoreless on four hits in 7 2/3 innings.

Not quite as dominant this postseason, Cain is 2-2 in four starts with a 3.52 ERA, walking just one hitter in 23 innings while striking out 15.

"I think so, a little bit," Cain said, referencing the value of his big-game experience, "but start to start it's different, year to year it's different. But you try to think back to kind of what goes on throughout the playoffs or the World Series.

"Sometimes there's lots of stuff that can go on with media and signing different things, or just the whole entire atmosphere can get a little overwhelming. So, I think that's where it's beneficial to be in this situation before."

What's new for Cain is an offense that can produce runs and relieve him of the notion that a shutout is close to mandatory. For most of his career, he held the dubious distinction of drawing the lowest run support of any starter in the game.

Cain finds a positive spin now on those trying times.

"I think it definitely taught me how to pitch in close situations and in close games, try to find ways to dig [myself] out of sticky innings, things like that," Cain said. "So, I think it definitely benefited me early in my career to learn how to do that.

"And I think it's definitely made me better."

Born in Dothan, Ala., and drafted by the Giants No. 1 (25th overall) in 2002 out of Houston High School in Germantown, Tenn., Cain has a highly deceptive 85-78 career record. He finally made it to the bright side of .500 by going 16-5 this year with a 2.79 ERA, his team finally figuring out how to produce runs for him. His career ERA is a sparkling 3.27 in 235 starts.

Cain's clean delivery, strength and durability have enabled him to average 213 innings per season in his seven full big league seasons. He hasn't missed a start since breaking into the rotation in 2006.

Facing Detroit for the first time in his career, Cain has some history with Tigers hitters from their days with other clubs. Miguel Cabrera is 1-for-6, that one hit a home run. Prince Fielder and Omar Infante are hitting .278 against him with 18 at-bats each, Fielder driving in three runs without a homer. Jhonny Peralta is 1-for-3 with two RBIs.

Cain doesn't want Cabrera, Fielder or Delmon Young launching any of his pitches, but Cain will be just as focused on table-setters Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry.

"If you can get the first two guys out in front of them or keep them off the bases ... it just makes it a little bit easier, stress-wise," Cain said. "When you've got a couple guys on with Cabrera or Fielder or Young [hitting], things aren't going so well. So, you've got to focus on the guys in front of them, as well. It's just not the guys in the middle."

Cain doesn't explode radar guns, but he puts quality stuff in good locations, keeping hitters off balance. He is at his best when challenged and threatened -- the very essence of a tough-minded clutch performer.

Through his career, covering 1,536 2/3 innings, Cain has held hitters to a .210 average, .321 slugging percentage and .623 OPS (on-base plus slugging) with runners in scoring position. He's even harder to solve with two outs in those game-turning situations, holding hitters to a .191 average, .301 slugging mark and .617 OPS.

Any math major with an interest in baseball would have to be impressed.

"I disagree with those who don't think there are clutch players," Bochy said, "players who are better players when something good has to happen for their team to win a game."

Cain alluded to the natural rush he gets in damage-control situations.

"Mainly," he said, "a lot of it is adrenaline. You're out there, and you know the situation. You are just really excited, and I think that pushes you through it."

With the pressure on, Cain has a history of being more than able.

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

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