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Schierholtz stars as Giants sweep A's

Schierholtz stars as Giants sweep A's

SAN FRANCISCO -- An inside-the-park home run is so rare that it often obscures everything else surrounding it, as Nate Schierholtz affirmed in the Giants' 7-1 Interleague victory Sunday over the Oakland A's.

Matt Cain's complete-game gem virtually became an afterthought. Pablo Sandoval's two-run homer and Andres Torres' three-hit effort seemed secondary. The Giants swept their cross-bay rivals in a three-game home series for the first time since June 15-17, 2001, and won their ninth game in 12 tries, yet team achievement took a back seat to individual accomplishment.

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Schierholtz created this effect with his third-inning drive to right-center field, AT&T Park's biggest canyon, in the third inning.

"Where else can you have that adrenaline hit at 51 years old?" said Tim Flannery, San Francisco's third-base coach who looked half his age as he excitedly beckoned Schierholtz home.

Yet the significance of Schierholtz's dash around the bases extended beyond the three runs he produced. He earned himself a majority of the starts in right field with his performance in this series, at least temporarily ending the competition among himself, Torres and Fred Lewis to play alongside Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn.

On Friday, Schierholtz made the first relay in a sequence that nabbed Adam Kennedy at home plate and preserved Tim Lincecum's shutout. On Saturday, Schierholtz rapped a pinch-hit RBI single. He followed that Sunday with a two-hit afternoon, a steamy throw to foil Jack Hannahan's second-inning bid to stretch a single into a double and a running catch on Jason Giambi's deep fourth-inning fly.

"Sure, he has earned some playing time," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Schierholtz, who never received an extended opportunity to prove himself while spending parts of 2007 and 2008 with the Giants. With Schierholtz in the lineup, Winn, the regular right fielder, will move to left.

Schierholtz described himself as "excited" to hear Bochy's declaration but remained calm. He knows how fleeting opportunities can be.

"I just try to keep my confidence up, play as hard as I can and help the team," said Schierholtz, 25.

Schierholtz indeed helped the Giants after Sandoval walked and Rich Aurilia singled to prolong the third inning against A's starter Brett Anderson (3-7) with two outs and the Giants leading, 3-1. Schierholtz then drove a 1-1 pitch toward the second outfield-wall archway to the right of the 421-foot marker in right-center. The ball bounced off the warning track, deflected off the chain-link fence and shot upward, giving Schierholtz extra time to run. A's right fielder Jack Cust theorized that the considerable backspin on the ball prevented it from caroming toward the outfield, as it normally would.

"It was kind of a weird play," Cust said.

Cust couldn't pick up the ball until it rolled into the adjacent archway, the one with signage honoring the quartet of Giants who have hit 500 home runs.

"He was flying," Cust said of Schierholtz. "I picked up the ball, and he was rounding third." Schierholtz didn't even draw a throw as he slid home safely.

"I was thinking triple out of the box," said Schierholtz, who related that he didn't consider heading for home until he approached third base and saw Flannery "jumping up and down." Added Schierholtz, "By the time I got to third, I was trying to get every bit of energy in my stride."

To this point, Schierholtz's most renowned baserunning occurred in last summer's Olympics, when he steamrollered catcher Yang Yang of China in a home-plate collision. That play demonstrated only a fraction of Schierholtz's athleticism.

Schierholtz's home run sprint, Bochy said, "shows you how fast he is. A lot of people don't realize Nate's speed. He kicked it into another gear after he hit second."

It was the fourth inside-the-park homer hit at AT&T Park. Schierholtz was preceded by St. Louis' Fernando Vina (May 9, 2000), the Giants' Dustan Mohr (Aug. 4, 2004) and Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki (2007 All-Star Game).

Schierholtz's homer gave Cain (9-1) more than enough support. Free to challenge A's hitters any way he wanted, Cain retired 15 consecutive batters and 19 of the last 20 beginning with the third inning's final out.

Cain, who lapsed only when he yielded Cust's first-inning homer, struck out nine and walked none. The latter helped him maintain the stamina to record his third complete game, tops in the National League.

"Say you walk two guys. That's probably 12 more pitches right there you can save for another inning," Cain said.

Though Cain appears destined to claim a spot on the NL All-Star team, he refrained from assuming too much.

"As a little kid, you always want to make the All-Star team, so to be able to have a chance to make it in the big leagues would be a huge opportunity," Cain said. "I'm trying to take it a step at a time."

That's exactly what Schierholtz did around the bases, albeit very quickly.

Chris Haft 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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