DENVER – Unlike the previous two nights, Matt Cain couldn’t simply flip off the TV. He couldn’t just tune out an ugly baseball game.
He stayed back home on the club’s suggestion while the Giants got pantsed down to their sliding shorts in two embarrassing losses at Toronto. Then he found himself standing on the mound at Coors Field well rested but far from relaxed Thursday night, having given up three home runs and staring at a 6-0 deficit in the third inning.
There was only one thing to do, and it wasn’t to pick up the remote control.
“It’s not always a fun thing,” he said. “But you’ve got to find a way to keep making pitches.”
Cain did. He retired 13 of his last 15 batters, and by the end, the Giants had the biggest of their 12 comeback victories this season. The 8-6 victory marked their 10th consecutive triumph over the upstart Colorado Rockies, too.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants rally behind Cain at Coors]
The Rockies wanted to change that momentum. The Giants wanted to start fresh after two of the worst games they’ve played back-to-back in recent memory.
The Giants accomplished what they wanted in the comeback. And as is usually the case after a win, they could rib each other a little more, too.
Cain’s teammates, especially Buster Posey and Jeremy Affeldt, made sure to get on him for skipping the brief, two-game foray into the Eastern time zone.
“Oh, Buster’s been pretty good, but Affeldt is Affeldt,” Cain said. “From a guy who stabbed himself in the hand, who blew out his knee when his kid hugged him, who blew out his oblique … yeah, he can talk.”
A reporter didn’t hear Cain’s response and asked him to clarify: did he say Affeldt stabbed his hand or head
“He’s probably done that, too,” Cain said. “We just haven’t heard about it.”
“Well, I’ve taken a fish hook and almost ripped my lip off,” Affeldt said.
Maybe it wasn’t that painful to watch his teammates kick the ball, hang pitches and otherwise get their poutine handed to them in Canada. But it sure wasn’t pleasant. A credit to Cain, though: He said he watched every pitch of Tuesday’s game, and all of Wednesday’s, too, until he had to leave for the airport.
“Yeah, it’s tough because that’s definitely not characteristic of how we play,” Cain said. “It’s a lot of things that just went wrong early. So that’s not how I wanted to start those first three innings, putting us in another hole.”
Cain leads the NL with 13 home runs surrendered after Todd Helton and Nolan Arenado hit consecutive pitches in the second inning and Wilin Rosario jumped on a flat 2-0 pitch for a three-run shot in the third.
That’s when first baseman Brandon Belt noticed a change in Cain.
“It didn’t seem like he got angry,” Belt said. “He just (bore) down. It’s not that he wasn’t focused before, but he was almost reminded where he was, kind of, and he busted his butt.”
Said Cain: “I really had nothing else to lose.”
The Giants stormed back for five runs in the fourth, and Cain responded by getting three quick outs in the bottom of the inning – an absolutely vital contribution when you’re trying to come back and win from a six-run deficit for the first time in eight seasons.
“A shutdown inning,” Affeldt said. “It was 1-2-3, and he ended up changing the momentum. … Obviously they have high expectations of themselves because of what they’ve done. But your ace doesn’t always have his stuff, and when he’s getting hit around, it’s about finding a way to keep us in the ballgame. He did a fine job with the hand he was dealt.”
Cain has not dealt for most of his nine starts. He has a 5.43 ERA. The Giants rotation ended the day with a 4.52 ERA. Only the Padres and Brewers are worse among the 15 NL clubs.
It is beyond alarming. Yet for now, the Giants are winning in spite of it. They’re atop the NL West with a 24-17 record and their .585 winning percentage ranks fifth in the major leagues.
“We’re known for the strength of our rotation and winning those close, 2-1 ballgames,” said Affeldt, who retired all six batters he faced over a three-inning span. “But now our close ballgames are 6-5. Hopefully we get hot and the pitching staff can pick up the offense.
“But right now, just let the offense keep rolling. It’s awesome.”