Molina homers twice, Cain controls Rox

Molina homers twice, Cain controls Rox

DENVER -- Thursday's 8-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies gave the Giants a head start on their primary summer project: catching the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Giants refused to gloat over the startling news that Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles' offensive dynamo, received a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use. Yet they realized that Ramirez's absence presents them with the chance to trim the 6 1/2-game lead in the National League West which the Dodgers owned as the day dawned.

"It does some sort of damage to their lineup, which we as a whole have to take advantage of," closer Brian Wilson said.

"If there was any time for us to capitalize, it's now," left-hander Barry Zito said.

As in right now. The second-place Giants open a three-game series at Dodger Stadium on Friday, with Zito opposing Los Angeles ace Chad Billingsley. After this series, the Giants and Dodgers won't meet until mid-August -- more than a month after Ramirez's expected return.

Said utility man Rich Aurilia, "We're trying to gain some ground. The easiest way to gain ground is by beating the team ahead of you."

Beating teams behind them has challenged the Giants on the road, where they're 4-9. But they recovered from the 11-1 thrashing Colorado administered Wednesday with a thorough performance. Catcher Bengie Molina homered twice to pace a 12-hit effort, Matt Cain (3-1) worked six one-hit shutout innings and third baseman Pablo Sandoval sparkled defensively. All this lifted the Giants (14-13) one game above .500.

One of the afternoon's most encouraging aspects for the Giants was their success against Rockies starter Jason Marquis (4-2), who took a shutout into the ninth inning against them last Saturday at AT&T Park and settled for his fifth complete game in nearly 10 Major League seasons. This time, Marquis couldn't duplicate the previous week's movement on his sinker. The Giants, flabby offense and all, seized upon this weakness, as well as Colorado's season-high three errors that produced three unearned runs.

Hitless in 12 at-bats against Marquis entering the game, Molina homered in each of his first two plate appearances. He led off the second inning by planting a 2-1 pitch in the left-field seats, then hit a two-run drive to the opposite field in the third which concluded a four-run Giants outburst. Molina just missed homering again in his third inning, but his long fly died at the right-center-field warning track.

"The only thing I did differently was let the ball travel to me," Molina said. "Before, I was trying to be too quick."

Cain endured a similar problem as he walked four of the first six Rockies hitters.

"I was a little bit ahead of myself going to the plate," he said.

But Cain survived by coaxing double-play grounders in each of the first two innings. Starting with the second twin killing, Cain retired 14 of the final 16 batters he faced.

Molina placed special emphasis on the 3-1 changeup that Cain threw Todd Helton, which followed a pair of walks and generated the first double play. Without it, the Rockies might have enjoyed a bountiful inning.

"I think that turned the game around," Molina said.

Few leads are truly safe at Coors Field, but Sandoval helped seal the outcome with slick plays in the seventh and eighth innings. The latter was especially picturesque: a backhanded stop of Troy Tulowitzki's one-out grounder that Sandoval made as he slid to his knees. He then straightened and threw to first to retire Tulowitzki.

Asked if that was his best play of the season, Sandoval said, "I think so."

The 22-year-old attributed his defensive improvement to constant work at the position, which he previously would desert to catch or play first base, as well as bench coach Ron Wotus' daily tutelage. These elements have sharpened Sandoval's concentration.

"I think it's the moment of the game," Sandoval said. "Every pitch, every series you have to be like that."

Given an opening to tighten the NL West race, the Giants would be well-advised to follow Sandoval's example.

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