PITTSBURGH – One year to the day, events repeated themselves for Matt Cain.
No, he didn’t pitch a perfect game Thursday night. That bid ended when he walked the fourth batter he faced. And no, he didn’t pitch a no-hitter. That tease ended when Garrett Jones singled to start the fifth.
But just as he did one year ago against the Houston Astros, Cain was able to operate with an embarrassingly big lead. And he didn’t nick any arteries in a refreshing, 10-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
Sound familiar? Cain’s perfect game against the Houston Astros was a 10-0 victory, too.
After the Giants’ first two losses here at PNC Park, pitching with a comfortable lead was satisfying enough.
An offense missing Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval and Marco Scutaro continues to find ways to score. Hunter Pence had a busy night that included a three-run home run and Gregor Blanco, who made that perfect game-saving catch a year ago, traded angel wings for a hot bat while grounding a couple of RBI singles up the middle, and the Giants scored 10 runs in a game for the sixth time this season.
At this time last year, they’d only reached double-digit runs twice.
Cain held the Pirates to two hits in 6 2/3 scoreless innings as the Giants outhit their opponents 17 to 3 and avoided being swept in the three-game series.
Starting pitching report
Cain’s 4.70 ERA won’t win him another All-Star appearance, but it belies the way he’s pitched over the better part of six weeks.
Throw out that one strange inning at St. Louis and Cain has given up just one run on six hits over 18 2/3 innings spanning his last three starts. He hasn’t allowed a home run in his last five outings; prior to that, he served up 13 of them over a seven-start span.
In other words, he’s pretty much back to being Matt Cain.
Cain (5-3) faced the minimum over the first four innings, wiping out Jones’ walk with a double-play grounder. He did the same in the fifth, inducing a twin killing after Jones singled to start the inning.
The Pirates didn’t get a runner into scoring position until Andrew McCutchen hit a one-out double in the seventh. Cain threw a two-out pitch that hit Neil Walker, and appeared shocked when manager Bruce Bochy came out to collect the baseball.
Cain threw 101 pitches and struck out two. He finished an out away from completing seven innings in consecutive starts for the first time all season.
Javier Lopez walked the only batter he faced to load the bases in the seventh, and Bochy took no chances. He brought in Jean Machi, who struck out Michael McKenry to save Cain’s ERA.
Holding down the Pirates also made it a bit easier for Bochy to risk taking out Posey for the final two innings.
At the plate
Charlie Morton didn’t look like a pitcher making his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery a year ago. He threw 94 mph and had plenty of movement on his breaking ball.
But the Giants took advantage of his occasional wildness to scratch a run in each of the first two innings. Blanco drew a leadoff walk, Brandon Crawford was hit by a pitch and Blanco got a terrific jump to score easily on Buster Posey’s ground single.
Blanco’s two-out single up the middle scored Nick Noonan to make it 2-0 in the second.
The Giants set up another rally in the fifth after another pitch brushed Crawford’s leg. He was forced to go back to third when Posey’s deep drive hopped over the wall for an automatic double.
Then things got weird.
Pence hit a ground ball to first base and Crawford was caught in a rundown. But after three throws, Crawford spun around and made contact with third baseman Pedro Alvarez. They were on the grass in fair territory when they made contact, but umpires called interference and Crawford was allowed to trot home with a run to the gum-smacking protestations of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
Andres Torres hit a sacrifice fly to the wall in left field to make it 4-0, and the rally would’ve continued if Pence hadn’t gotten struck by Joaquin Arias’ line drive to end the inning. Pence was called out and Arias was awarded a single.
After that inning, Pence’s three-run homer was just about the most normal thing he did all night. Noonan started that rally in the sixth with a bunt single off left-hander Mike Zagurski, Blanco whistled another single up the middle, then he alertly went from first to third when he saw Andrew McCutchen casually winding up to throw to second base.
Posey followed with a ground ball that was ruled an RBI single when Crawford beat shortstop Jordy Mercer’s throw to second base. Then Pence unloaded for his team-leading 11th home run, dropping his three-run shot into the Giants bullpen.
Earlier in the game, Pence stole his 13th base in 13 attempts – the most steals by anyone in the majors without getting caught. He’s now on pace for 27 home runs and 32 stolen bases this season.
Blanco and Crawford were dynamic in the top two spots. Blanco reached base four times and so did Crawford, who was one plunking away from joining Tito Fuentes, Ron Hunt and Mel Ott as the only Giants in franchise history to get hit by three pitches in a game.
The Giants dropped the series here despite scoring 19 runs over three games. On the trip thus far, they’ve scored 36 runs in six games while going 3-3.
Nick Noonan hit his first big league home run – for about three minutes, anyway. His shot to right field in the ninth originally was ruled a home run, but replays were conclusive that it hit the top of the wall and bounced back. Noonan was ordered back to second base with a double.
The Pirates announced 22,532 paid on what turned out to be a pleasant and dry night. Personally speaking, I cannot remember a time when the Giants not only avoided rain delays over a complete series here, but both teams were able to take batting practice every day, too.
The Giants start a three-game series at Atlanta’s Turner Field on Friday. Madison Bumgarner (5-4, 3.58 ERA) takes the mound against right-hander Kris Medlen (3-6, 2.87). First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. PDT. It’ll be Chad Gaudin (2-1, 2.32) vs. left-hander Mike Minor (8-2, 2.44) on Saturday and Tim Lincecum (4-6, 4.70) vs. right-hander Julio Teheran (4-3, 3.62) on Sunday.