SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy wanted his slumping team to get its mojo back before heading back out on the road, and he wasn’t willing to wait around and just hope that something would happen. Bochy always manages with a sense of urgency, but he dialed it up a couple notches in the fifth inning with a series of moves that can be summed up by one of the strangest sequences you’ll see on a baseball field this season.
Madison Bumgarner pinch-hits for Matt Cain. Jeff Samardzija pinch-runs for Madison Bumgarner.
Bochy’s mind started churning as he watched Cain complete his fifth no-hit inning. Because of five walks, the pitch count was rising quickly, and Cain would be at 93 by the end of the frame. Bumgarner, who comes into every game ready for an at-bat, had already taken a few swings in the cage. He hit for Cain and lined a Gio Gonzalez fastball off the bricks for a double. Samardzija was apparently not as ready for action, as he wore Mac Williamson’s helmet out onto the field when he took Bumgarner’s spot.
An error later, the Giants had a second run. Twelve outs later, they had a 3-1 victory and their first two-game “winning streak” of the second half. Thanks in part to two fellow starters, Cain had his 100th career victory.
“He would have gotten it anyway, but anything we can do to help, we’ll do it,” Bumgarner said. “I’m glad it worked out for us and glad he got his 100th win. That’s a pretty special deal. It’s fun just to be a part of the game and get a chance to help the team win when you’re not out there pitching. It’s a pretty neat opportunity. I’m just glad it worked out and paid off.”
The move brought new life to AT&T Park even before it worked out. When Bumgarner doubled, Cain threw his hands up in joy. When Samardzija jogged home on the error, players rushed to greet him at the dugout steps, with a smiling Bumgarner and high-fiving Cain the first two in line.
In recent days, some Giants officials noted that the team had long ago stopped having fun. That moment seemed to turn it around, and once the win was complete, the Giants doubled down with a toast for Cain, the longest-tenured member of the team.
“Some nice high-class Bud Light,” Cain said. “And it was perfect.”
Cain thought this moment would come years ago, but injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to two wins each of the past two seasons. He has twice missed time this year with a hamstring strain, but on Sunday he finally got that elusive victory.
“I didn’t think it would be that big a deal, but for it to take three years — it feels good, it definitely feels good,” Cain said. “It was definitely a long road.”
Cain became the third San Francisco Giant — joining Mike Krukow and Tim Lincecum — to throw at least five no-hit innings without pitching a complete game. He lost command at times and spent the first four innings throwing as many balls as strikes, but showed an ability to elevate in the zone when needed.
“He’s starting to get back to the rhythm he had before he hurt his hamstring,” Bochy said of Cain, who struck out five. “I guess you could say he was effectively wild.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for Cain, and might have slightly altered the front office’s plans before Monday’s 1 p.m. trade deadline. The Giants have canvassed the market looking for pitching help, and they have been open to adding a starter with three struggling with inconsistency this season. But Samardzija certainly won’t be replaced, and it’s hard to imagine the Giants actively seeking a replacement for Jake Peavy, who has pitched well for most of the past two months and was an energetic force in the clubhouse this weekend for a team that needed a turnaround. It’s equally hard to picture anyone being acquired to push Cain in the hours after he was toasted by the entire team.
As a smiling group headed for the airport, sources indicated the Giants did not anticipate making a move Sunday night. The front office has spent nearly every waking hour this week in meetings, and the weekend wins might have changed the math a bit.
Hunter Strickland is throwing as well as he ever has as a Giant and Derek Law was sharp in the eighth inning Sunday, extending a scoreless streak to 12 games. Santiago Casilla wants to remain the closer, and he struck out two in the ninth, blowing three straight fastballs past MVP frontrunner Daniel Murphy to end the game. Was Casilla trying to show his manager and general manager something?
“Maybe,” Bochy said. “This is a tough time for the players, this time of the year. It’s part of baseball. They’re going to hear rumors. If that happens, you hope a player does what he’s doing and makes a statement and says, ‘We’re fine here. I’m fine.’ He’s really trying to show that, hey, he is the guy.”
The bullpen has pitched better since the break. If anything, Sunday’s game might have shown a need for one more bat. It’s not ideal to use your ace as a pinch-hitter and your No. 3 starter as a pinch-runner, but it sure was entertaining.
“Pretty impressive pinch-hit, wasn’t it?” Bochy said, smiling. “He hit the ball off the wall the other way. These guys know our situation and we needed them available. Both of them want to be in the game.”
Cain said he didn’t take offense to a pitcher taking his at-bat, noting that Bumgarner is easily the better hitter. Bumgarner didn’t mind much when he was replaced, either. Is Samardzija, the former Notre Dame wide receiver, still that much faster than Bumgarner?
“Have you not seen his highlight video?” Bumgarner asked.