SAN FRANCISCO — Don’t tell Matt Cain the “pitcher win” is now a meaningless stat.
“When you haven’t had one in a year, it’s pretty nice to have,” Cain said Saturday evening. “If the team wins it’s great, but it’s also nice to have one when you haven’t had one in a long time.”
For Cain, the longest-tenured Giant, it’s been almost exactly 10 months since win No. 97. His last victory before Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Cubs came July 22, 2015, and while Cain has over the years often been the victim of poor run support, this streak was largely built on lackluster pitching.
Cain had a 7.84 ERA through six starts, but he has turned his season around in dramatic fashion. After throwing eight innings and allowing just two runs to the Blue Jays on May 10, Cain gave up one run over seven innings at Chase Field. The Giants scored two total runs in those starts, but they broke out early against Jon Lester on Saturday.
Cain provided the big blow, a two-run double in the second that snapped a 46 at-bat hitless streak that was the longest in the National League.
“We were just glad he made contact,” manager Bruce Bochy said, smiling. “He’s had a hard time doing that at the plate. He’s been striking out quite a bit.”
Cain had 10 strikeouts in 14 previous at-bats this season and with two on and two down, he forced Lester into a 3-2 count. Lester came with a fastball and Cain, who used to be one of the better-hitting pitchers in the league, smoked the ball into the left-center gap. Cain’s teammates wanted desperately to help him end his winless run, and afterward they had nothing but positive things to say about Cain getting a W. The hit, though, led to some good-natured ribbing.
“I was wanting him to auto-take there,” Buster Posey said. “I was hoping (Lester) would maybe throw a ball and turn it over to (Denard) Span. Shows how much I know.”
Posey teased Cain in the dugout. On the field, he helped give him a bigger lead and give Lester the shortest start (2 2/3 innings) by a Cub this season. Lester grooved a cutter to Posey in the third and it landed into the seats in left.
Cain, given a 5-1 lead, did the rest. He got better as he went and finished on a high note. The bullpen started buzzing in the sixth after Ben Zobrist hit a leadoff single, but Cain responded by freezing Jorge Soler with a fastball. Javier Baez swung through a changeup. Addison Russell did, too.
“It looks like he’s back to who he is,” Bochy said. “He’s healthy. The confidence soared the last three starts and that’s good for us.”
Bochy did all he could to make sure this win didn’t get away from Cain. Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich teamed up on the seventh and Cory Gearrin took over two batters into the eighth. When Gearrin got into a jam, Cubs manager Joe Maddon sent Miguel Montero, his usual starting catcher, to the plate. Knowing Maddon would counter if he called for lefty Javier Lopez to face the left-handed hitting Montero, Bochy went out to the mound anyway.
“I’ve got to force them to make a change,” Bochy said. “Montero, I know he’s a big threat.”
Montero is off to a slow start but he’s coming off a 15-homer season. He was replaced by right-hander Tim Federowicz, who hits right-handed but is just a .194 career hitter. Lopez struck him out, showing a tad more emotion than usual.
“Everybody knew what the situation was,” Lopez said, referring to Cain’s winless streak.
Santigo Casilla sped up some heartbeats by allowing a solo homer to kick off the ninth, but he closed the game out. Cain, at long last, was back in the win column, but he wasn’t ready to say he’s back.
“That’d be a bad thing for me,” he said. “The biggest thing is to stay pushing and find a way to get better.”
The Giants know that three starts is a small sample size, but a lot of that is mitigated by the fact that Cain has in succession shut down three good lineups: The Blue Jays, the Diamondbacks and now the Cubs. On Saturday, he finally was rewarded.
“It’s great for Matty,” Bochy said. “It’s been a long road for him with all he’s gone through. More important is the way he’s been throwing the ball. He had a good tempo and rhythm going and he really pitched a very nice ballgame. It’s good to see him gain traction. He’s a big part of our staff.”