The pair of Giants right-handers, who have acknowledged that their friendly competition constantly fuels their drive to outdo each other, approach this season with another goal in sight: 100 career victories. Both Cain (93-88 lifetime) and Lincecum (89-70) believe it's entirely fitting that they should jointly pursue this standard.
Cain compared this lap of his match race with Lincecum to the first half of the 2008 season. That's when he, Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez became the first trio of Giants pitchers to reach 100 strikeouts apiece by the All-Star break. Winning No. 100 with Lincecum, regardless of who reaches the mark soonest, would generate a similar thrill.
"It'd be pretty cool to share that," Cain said. "It's kind of a special thing you think about, because you go through it together."
Lincecum also addressed the enriched meaning of a shared experience. "We've been through the organization; we've both been through the bad times and the rise to get to the good times," he said.
They've goaded each other toward greater heights during this ascent.
"You treat it as if you're competing for the No. 1 spot, in a sense," Lincecum said. "You're always competing to be better than the guy before you or the guy after you. That's something that's been instilled in us as pitchers."
Said Cain, "It's one of those things where you're always rooting for the other guy to do well -- and in a way, you're rooting for him so that pushes you to do well."
Lincecum, who turns 30 on June 15, is 3 1/2 months older than Cain. Though their age difference is minimal, Cain possesses the status of being the longest-tenured Giants player, having reached the Majors in August 2005. So Cain, the big brother of the Giants' pitching fraternity, tends to dispense good-natured grief to his counterparts, including Lincecum, who doesn't seem to mind.
"Matt's always been playful, kind of funny," Lincecum said. "That's what's been instilled in us as baseball players. You kind of give the other guy a [hard time] just to wake him up. You can't always wait for the coaches to get on you."
Lincecum has never, ever boasted about any of his feats. If he were so inclined, he could point out that his back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards in 2008-09 and three consecutive league strikeout titles (2008-10) may forever make his trophy case sparkle brighter than Cain's. Otherwise, their accomplishments parallel each other's. Lincecum, a four-time All-Star, started for the NL in the 2009 Midsummer Classic; one year later, Cain received the start after his third All-Star selection. Cain's perfect game against the Astros in June 2012 preceded Lincecum's no-hitter at San Diego by 13 months.
Each contributed handsomely to the Giants' World Series triumphs. Lincecum won the Babe Ruth Award, given by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, as the Most Valuable Player of the 2010 postseason. He went 4-1. Cain allowed one unearned run spanning 20 1/3 innings in three starts.
In 2012, Cain started the clinching games in each postseason series and twice earned the decision. Despite being assigned to the bullpen, Lincecum was nothing short of spectacular, yielding one run in 13 innings while striking out 17 in five relief appearances.
Experience has taught both to place personal victories in perspective. Each has been victimized by poor run support at various times in their careers. Cain finished 15-30 in 2007-08 and posted an 8-10 record last year after a shockingly subpar first half (5-6, 5.06 ERA). Lincecum has endured three consecutive losing seasons and recorded a 4.76 ERA in the last two years.
Pitching victories increasingly have been regarded as a team-oriented statistic, particularly as starters throw fewer complete games. Cain and Lincecum realize this.
"There's a lot of games you probably can pitch and win on your own by making yourself get through situations," Cain said. "But you have to have help. You have to have that defense behind you, and you have to get some runs at times when maybe you don't pitch so well."
"It's up to us, obviously, to keep the game close," Lincecum said. "Regardless of who picks up the ball behind us, that's what our job is, to put us in position to win. ... For us, we want to win as a team, not necessarily to put the win under my name."
Four other Giants have signed their names to 100 wins since the franchise moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958. Hall of Famers Juan Marichal (238) and Gaylord Perry (134), top the list, followed by Kirk Rueter (105) and Mike McCormick (104).
"When you think about it, it's an accomplishment," Cain said.
But he proceeded to cite Greg Maddux (355 victories), Tom Glavine (305) and John Smoltz (213), prompting humility.
"You're like, man, a hundred's really not a whole lot," Cain concluded.
Skeptics thought Lincecum wouldn't last 100 pitches in professional baseball, much less win 100 Major League games.
"I'll be proud of it when I get there," he said. "That's not something I've ever actually shot for. We'll see where we are at the end of the year, and hopefully the wins outweigh the losses."
They sounded as if they're beginning to motivate themselves for the next 100.