SAN FRANCISCO – When the fog clears, Matt Cain probably will remember Sunday as one of the best days of his life.
Even if it included the worst inning of his career.
Not long after the Giants received their diamond-dusted 2012 World Series rings, the Cardinals dominated Cain in every facet. They sent 11 men to the plate against him in a nine-run fourth inning to cruise to a 14-3 victory over the Giants at AT&T Park.
The Cardinals’ nine-run rally wasn’t just the biggest inning of Cain’s career. It matched the most runs he’s allowed in a start, period. And as it so happens, the previous time also came against the Cardinals -- on April 18, 2008, at Busch Stadium.
This time, the Cards did all their damage in one inning – and it was a stunning scene, especially after Cain had retired the first nine batters he faced on just 30 pitches. The second time through the order, Cain held no mystery. The Cardinals were 6 for 7 with a walk, a sacrifice fly and a sacrifice bunt attempt that pitcher Adam Wainwright popped up.
So much for that stat about the rotation ERA. The Cardinals rang up 14 earned runs against Ryan Vogelsong and Cain to take two of three in the series.
And it’ll take awhile for Cain to shave down his personal stats. He has an 8.38 ERA through two starts.
But that ring? That’s for keeps.
Starting pitching report
Last year, Cain threw a perfect game after swinging a golf club in a pregame promotion. So there couldn’t be any harm in taking part in the ring ceremony, right?
No, the ceremony wasn’t to blame. Cain and catcher Buster Posey received their rings first, so they could head out to the bullpen and prepare for the start. Cain certainly began sharply enough, using just 10, eight and 12 pitches to retire the side in the first three innings.
But then came the fourth, and now Cain knows what it feels like to stand in a driving rainstorm.
Jon Jay hit a leadoff single and took second on Angel Pagan’s fielding error in center field. Matt Carpenter singled to put runners at the corners. After Carlos Beltran lifted his sacrifice fly to right field, Cain could have gotten out of the inning with one pitch to Yadier Molina, who is known to bounce into a double play.
But the pitch never came. Molina singled to load the bases and Matt Adams crushed a double that hopped the center field fence, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. It got no better from there. Ty Wigginton and Pete Kozma singled and Jay drew a two-out walk to load the bases again.
Cain appeared to throw a strike on a 2-2 pitch to Carpenter, but umpire Doug Eddings didn’t ring him up. And as Cain’s fortunes would have it, the next pitch, his last of the game, ended up in right field for a two-run single.
Jose Mijares allowed both inherited runners to score on a single to Beltran, completing the damage against Cain.
It was most runs the Giants allowed in an inning since Aug. 5, 2004, when the Cincinnati Reds put up 10 in the eighth.
At least Chad Gaudin stabilized the game with three shutout innings. He pounded the zone while holding the Cardinals to one hit and striking out four – a contribution that could be felt in the next series.
The Cardinals poured on five more runs in the final two innings, but two against Javier Lopez were unearned after Sandoval bobbled a grounder at third base in the eighth.
At the plate
Pagan wasted no time getting his gold-threaded uniform dirty.
The leadoff man, who paced the majors with 15 triples last season while breaking Willie Mays’ San Francisco-era franchise record, collected his first of the season in the first inning.
But the Giants couldn’t get him home, and Adam Wainwright had a lot to do with that. The Cardinals right-hander threw cutters and fastballs while freezing Marco Scutaro, then broke out his lethal curve to strike out Pablo Sandoval and get Buster Posey to roll over to third base.
The Giants managed to take a 2-0 lead in the third when Brandon Crawford and Pagan hit doubles on offspeed pitches, and Sandoval lined a two-out RBI single over the shortstop’s head.
But they needed a bigger rally later on, and they simply don’t have enough hot hitters at the moment to outslug opponents.
Scutaro is practically on ice while battling to rid himself of bad habits he picked up while dealing with back stiffness in spring training. He is just 2 for 23 in six games.
Posey is still searching for his timing, too. A pitch before rolling over that Wainwright curve in the first inning, he fouled back a mistake fastball down the middle.
Remember when Crawford started last season in a fielding slump? He hasn’t encountered any bad hops in the early going this time. The shortstop turned in his daily highlight in the sixth inning, when he smoothly picked up Jon Jay’s hard grounder after it had taken a wicked bounce off the mound, then threw on the run to record the out.
Pagan committed an error to start the fourth when he overran Jay’s single, giving the runner an extra 90 feet. It’s hard to say that miscue made any difference, given how the rest of the inning unfolded.
The Giants announced 42,201 paid, and if the game was a letdown … well, just check out the lineup the last time Cain gave up nine runs in a start: LF Fred Lewis, 2B Eugenio Velez, RF Randy Winn, C Bengie Molina, 1B John Bowker, CF Aaron Rowand, 3B Jose Castillo and SS Brian Bocock.
Yeah. They can feel better about things now.
The Giants finish their debut homestand with a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies. Madison Bumgarner (1-0, 0.00) takes the mound Monday night against left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (0-0. 8.31). Tim Lincecum (1-0, 0.00) is scheduled to start Tuesday night against right-hander Joan Nicasio (1-0, 3.00). Barry Zito (1-0, 0.00) will start the series finale Wednesday afternoon against left-hander Jeff Francis (1-0, 1.50).