SAN FRANCISCO – With enough red flags around Matt Cain to form a slalom course, this was the last thing the sellout crowd at AT&T Park wanted to see Saturday night: Trainers Dave Groeschner and Mark Gruesbeck, leaving footprints all over the mound.
The trainers did come out to the bump – three times, in all. But it wasn’t to check on Cain. He looked hale and hearty in five-plus innings of a 4-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
But Jeremy Affeldt appears headed to the disabled list after straining his left groin. Sandy Rosario (hand) and Sergio Romo (hit on the leg by a comebacker) appeared much less worse for wear.
And the Giants certainly got healthier in the standings. After picking up their second game in two days, they’re only 4 ½ games back of Arizona in the NL West – four in the loss column.
Buster Posey hit a two-run home run and the Diamondbacks stranded 11 runners over the final five innings as the Giants continue to make their case to the front office to bolster this bunch ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Starting pitching report
It’s hard to believe that Cain entered Saturday with a 5.94 ERA in 10 home starts – the highest home ERA among all qualified starting pitchers in the major leagues.
Given his background and track record, including a 2.03 ERA at AT&T Park last season, it just didn’t add up -- unless Cain was grinding through an injury. Although the right-hander insisted he had no health issues, I’m told he did have a “hot spot” in his start July 5, when the Dodgers tagged him for eight runs in 2 1/3 innings. That’s why, five days later, Bochy had such a quick hook when he saw Cain beginning to unravel in the first inning against the Mets.
But club officials really did believe that Cain’s issue had calmed down and that he’d be fine when he took the mound Saturday with nine days of rest.
Cain’s first inning justified their confidence. He had terrific movement on his slider and curve while striking out two and pitching around Gerardo Parra’s double. Cain’s fastball had giddyup when he needed it, too. He hit 93 mph while striking out Paul Goldschmidt to start the fourth.
Even when the Diamondbacks scored their first run of the series, it shouldn’t have crossed the plate. Cain got the double-play grounder he sought from pinch hitter Eric Chavez, but backup shortstop Tony Abreu rushed his wide throw while turning the pivot for an error that allowed Martin Prado to trot home.
Cain proceeded to get off kilter for the first time all game while issuing walks to Adam Eaton and Parra, loading the bases for Goldschmidt. He got a ground out to escape the threat, but those extra 14 pitches resulted in a 31-pitch inning – and that’s more stress than anyone wanted to see.
Cain threw nine more pitches in the sixth, giving up two singles and leaving runners at the corners. But he also departed with a 4-1 lead, and with the crowd perhaps sensing this season has brought unique challenges for the Giants’ ace, they sent him off with a standing ovation.
Cain (6-6) threw 102 pitches and ended up getting charged with two earned runs in five-plus innings. He allowed four hits, struck out four and walked four. He won his first decision since June 18, breaking a five-start run without a victory.
Given the events of the sixth inning, it’s a minor miracle that only one of Cain’s runners crossed the plate. That happened right away, as Martin Prado slapped George Kontos’ fastball for an RBI single to make it 4-2.
But Kontos broke Ross’s bat on a lineout, Affeldt retired Cliff Pennington, and he was a strike away from getting out of the inning when pinch hitter A.J. Pollock fouled off a 3-1 pitch. But Affeldt landed awkwardly and immediately grabbed the area near his left groin. He appeared to say, “I felt a pop” to trainers, who escorted him off the mound.
Jose Mijares inherited the full count and walked Pollock on the first pitch, but then he struck out Adam Eaton to strand the bases loaded.
The Diamondbacks ended up stranding 10 over a four-inning span when they left two on base in the seventh and two more in the eighth.
Santiago Casilla allowed a two-out walk and a single in the seventh, but shortstop Brandon Crawford, who didn’t start because of a swollen foot, made a deft pickup of a grounder behind second base. Marco Scutaro used his bare hand to grab it and record the out.
The eighth was just as arduous, and it included more footprints on the mound from the training staff. The Giants nearly lost another reliever to injury when Sandy Rosario tried to barehand Ross’s single. But he stayed in the game and retired Pennington.
Then Javier Lopez had to work especially hard to escape the inning. Crawford fumbled pinch hitter Wil Nieves’ grounder up the middle for an error to put runners at first and second with one out. But Lopez showed once again why he’s such a handy guy to have around. He fielded a comebacker for a forceout at second base, then with Romo warming up behind him, he threw a series of sliders while getting Parra to ground out to second base.
Left-handers are hitting .140 in their last 43 at-bats against Lopez.
But even Romo’s night included a visit from the trainers. He was struck just above the right knee by Goldschmidt’s infield single to start the ninth inning, but remained in the game.
His scoreless streak went by the wayside after 29 innings, too. Prado hit a two-out, RBI single – the first run the Diamondbacks scored off Romo since 2010. But the fiery little closer struck out Ross to end it and record his 23rd save in 26 chances.
At the plate
No, the offense hasn’t exactly broken out in two games against the Diamondbacks. But the Giants are scoring early for a change – something they even failed to do with regularity in April and early May, when they were slugging their way to comeback victories.
Pablo Sandoval delivered the Giants another all-important run in the first inning when his two-out double scored Marco Scutaro.
The Giants added to their lead in the fourth, after Sandoval, Posey and Hunter Pence hit consecutive singles to start a potentially huge rally. They only netted one run out of it, though – and that came when Jeff Francoeur drew a walk.
How delicious. The guy who is so lambasted by the numbers crunchers for never drawing a walk ended up collecting his first RBI as a Giant with a base on balls. It was the seventh bases-loaded walk of Francoeur’s career, and his first since 2008.
But Sandoval was thrown out in a close play at the plate while trying to score on a pitch that ticked off catcher Miguel Montero’s glove and caromed hard off the backstop. Then Pence was thrown out trying to score on Abreu’s grounder to third base, with Montero holding his ground – and the baseball – despite a hard collision.
Quiroz struck out to end the inning. But at least he didn’t kill Francoeur in the process with a foul liner that the baserunner avoided with a tumbling, jumping-jack move.
It was a 2-1 game when Posey came up with his second huge extra-base hit in as many games. He hit one of his classic, back spun drives to center field off Josh Collmenter for a two-run home run in the fifth inning.
Posey’s home run was just the Giants’ third in their last 16 home games. The last time someone other than Posey or Pence hit a homer at AT&T Park, it was Andres Torres on June 4 against Toronto.
But Posey’s shot also was the 30th by the Giants in 49 home games. One more and they’ll equal the total that they hit last year in 81 regular-season games at AT&T Park.
Abreu’s error in the fifth cost the Giants a run, but he also made a spectacular play when he stayed with a flat skip off the lip of the grass and then threw for a forceout at second base in the second inning.
Then Andres Torres showed that despite his struggles in left field all season, he remains a premium defender in center. He raced back to haul in Cody Ross’ deep drive at the track. Ross gave his bat a nice little skidding toss before slapping his hands to his helmet and making a big frowny face.
The Giants announced 41,742 paid.
The Giants and Diamondbacks conclude their three-game series at AT&T Park on Sunday. All-Star left-hander Madison Bumgarner (10-5, 3.02 ERA) takes the mound against right-hander Randall Delgado (1-3, 3.92). First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. PDT.
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