SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Matt Cain has endured years of little or no run support. He has been San Francisco’s second star pitcher behind Tim Lincecum. Cain blew it earlier this month against San Diego when the Giants took their first shot at clinching the NL West.
So, what a day for the outing of his life, and his first career victory against the Philadelphia Phillies in six tries.
Cain pitched seven impressive innings and outdueled 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels for his first postseason win, and the Giants beat the Phillies 3-0 on Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in the NL championship series.
“I think this is probably the top one I’ve ever pitched,” Cain said. “To be able to pitch in the postseason is great, and to be able to throw the ball well and help your team win is a great feeling.”
Cain allowed two hits, struck out five and walked three in a strong 119-pitch effort.
“Matt got into a rhythm and we got to score a couple of runs early for him,” center fielder Aaron Rowand said. “Everybody who has followed this team all year has seen after the first couple of innings when he gets into his groove he’s tough. He did it again today. Our MVP today was Matt Cain.”
Along with Cody Ross, of course.
San Francisco again benefited from Ross’ big bat this postseason. Ross delivered for the third time in as many games of this NLCS — this time with home run king Barry Bonds in a front-row seat cheering his former club.
Picked up off waivers in August from Florida, Ross added to his quickly growing postseason legacy. He homered three times in the first two games at Philadelphia and hit an RBI single in Game 3 to break a scoreless tie.
“He plays with no fear,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s what you love about the guy.”
The modest Ross insists he’s far from deserving of comparisons to Bonds or Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.
Bochy even tinkered with his lineup, moving Ross up into the No. 5 spot. The good-natured guy who aspired to be a rodeo clown as a kid came to the plate to chants of “Cody! Cody!”
“It’s an easy name to chant, that’s probably why. Two syllables,” Ross said. “It’s been an unbelievable experience for me so far. A month and a half, two months ago, I didn’t dream I’d be in this situation. The Giants were awesome to bring me over here. It’s just been a great ride.”
San Francisco grabbed the edge in its best-of-seven series against the two-time defending NL champions — with two more games in their home ballpark.
Bonds, wearing his old No. 25 jersey, got the towel-waving sellout crowd of 43,320 going at AT&T Park when he was introduced on the field before the first pitch along with three other ex-Giants. He threw his arms up in the air and waved, generating wild cheers.
Ross hit an RBI single in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie and fellow playoff first-timer Aubrey Huff followed with a run-scoring single.
“He’s definitely hot,” Hamels said. “He’s been battling and hitting pitches that most normal people can’t hit at this time.”
“Hit him,” Hamels kidded.
This marked the third great pitching matchup in as many games of this NLCS. First, it was Roy Halladay vs. Lincecum, then Roy Oswalt and Jonathan Sanchez.
Joe Blanton will start for the Phillies in Game 4 on Wednesday night, though manager Charlie Manuel considered Halladay on short rest. Blanton last pitched one inning of relief on the final day of the season, an 8-7 loss at Atlanta, and has not started since Sept. 29.
Rookie Madison Bumgarner starts for the Giants in his first career matchup against the Phillies. He pitched the division series clincher at Atlanta.
“I would say tomorrow is the biggest game we’ve played so far,” Manuel said.
On a beautiful and festive fall day in the Bay Area, Bochy made all the right moves.
Along with Ross moving up, Rowand earned a start in center field, then doubled and scored on Freddy Sanchez’s fifth-inning single.
After Cain, Javier Lopez pitched the eighth and Brian Wilson finished it for his fourth postseason save and second in as many tries this series.
“Usually someone steps up, but that wasn’t the case today,” Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. “When you get a guy on, you get him in. That’s the way to jump start it.”
Cain and Hamels each began with three scoreless innings. The left-handed Hamels didn’t allow a hit until Edgar Renteria’s single to start the fourth, while Carlos Ruiz’s one-out single in the third was the first off Cain.
After Renteria’s hit, Sanchez sacrificed him to second. Buster Posey struck out swinging and former Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell walked. Ross followed with his single.
San Francisco managed only four hits in losing 6-1 on Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park. The Giants knew they needed to do more Tuesday to swing the momentum back in their favor.
Juan Uribe played after he was scratched late before Game 2 with a bruised left wrist. An MRI exam Monday showed no structural damage.
Cain showed no signs of a long layoff in earning his first career postseason victory. Pitching on 10 days’ rest since a no-decision in Game 2 of the division series against Atlanta on Oct. 8, Cain beat the Phillies for the first time. He had been 0-3 lifetime with a 6.23 ERA in his first five career starts against Philadelphia.
Bochy visited Cain after the right-hander hit Ruiz and then walked pinch-hitter Ross Gload with two outs in the seventh, but stuck with him. Cain retired Shane Victorino on a groundout.
Cain shut down the heart of the Phillies’ loaded lineup, too.
Chase Utley, batting second for the second straight game, came in 7 for 15 with three home runs against Cain. He went 0 for 4. As did Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez, who grounded into a game-ending double play.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.