OnBase: Cain Leads the Way

Who let the dogs in?

Who let the dogs in?

Innings One Through Three: A Giant Awakens

Arizona’s Stephen Drew opens the game with a single. Justin Upton follows with a double. Kelly Johnson strikes out, but Chris Young walks, and the feeling in the press box is, as Yogi Berra once put it, “déjà vu all over again.”

In the last three games, Giant starting pitchers have given up 13 first-inning runs. This morning, sportswriters reported on a meeting that manager Bruce Bochy called to read the riot act to his starting rotation (minus Matt Cain, now on the mound, taking off his hat, wiping his forehead with the back of his wrist). With the many millions they’re making this year, especially Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito, they should be able to figure out a way to survive the first inning.

Now Cain is in danger of joining his comrades in the deepest ditch of Bochyean hell. Faced with similar situations over the past couple of days, both Lincecum and Zito failed miserably, unable to make an out, especially when they had two strikes on a batter in a key situation.

Cain gets two strikes on Adam LaRoche, then throws a curveball into the dirt à la Barry Zito. But the next pitch is pure Matt Cain: a 92-mph fastball spinning like crazy across the inside of the plate. LaRoche strikes out. Another pattern we’ve seen of late is for the Giant starter to get a big out, only to get burned by the subsequent, weaker, batter. Cain looks like he might repeat that pattern, throwing three fastballs well outside the strike zone to Mark Reynolds. But the pitcher doesn’t give up and he doesn’t give in to the batter. He throws two perfect fastballs on the inside corner, and with three balls and two strikes, the crowd rises as one, furiously applauds, urges, pleads, prays and cheers for Cain to get Reynolds out. An outside fastball, a swing and a miss!

It feels like a curse has been lifted. Even when Cain gives up a home run to Stephen Drew in the top of the third inning, it’s not the end of the world: he makes a mistake, he moves on, getting three quick outs.

But Cain does more than pitch. He takes responsibility to lead the team out of its funk, not something we are accustomed to seeing from Matty. Eli Whiteside, playing for the mildly injured Buster Posey, opens the bottom of the third inning with a double. Up comes Matt Cain, who everyone in the ballpark knows will bunt, hoping to move Whiteside to third. Cain lays down the perfect bunt. Not only does Whiteside make it to third, Cain beats the throw to first. It’s one of those defining moments in a game, and possibly beyond. Andres Torres acknowledges Cain’s efforts by driving Whiteside home with a double to center field. A single by Freddy Sanchez, a Pablo Sandoval double, and three more runs score before the third inning comes to a close with the Giants leading 4-1.

Innings Four Through Six: Boycott Update

When the Arizona Diamondbacks visited San Francisco in May, pro-immigration activists held a spirited picket to protest the Arizona law, SB 1070, that makes it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant. Because the owner of the D-backs has significant ties to Republican and anti-immigrant Arizona politicians, the protest was coupled with a call to boycott the Diamondbacks.

Despite no discernible protest today in San Francisco, there are reports of protests in other cities when the Diamondbacks come to town, and ongoing pickets at Chase Field in Phoenix. Although Latino fans divide on the desirability of a D-back boycott, Arizona attendance is at a near-record low (which may also be the result of poor play). Last month, the campaign to move next year’s All-Star Game from Phoenix received support from Latino players at this year’s All-Star Game, and will continue to be a way to oppose SB 1070, which went into effect last month.

Innings Seven Through Nine: Just Good Enough

Cain gets pulled after facing two batters in the seventh, and the Diamondbacks rattle relievers Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt into giving up four runs on three hits and a couple of walks, one intentional. Arizona now leads 6-5. Freddy Sanchez, whose bat has come alive of late, singles in the bottom of the seventh, and moves to third after Aubrey Huff’s deep fly to left-center gets lost in the sun. Up comes José Guillen. In his blog this morning, San Jose Mercury News reporter Andrew Baggarly snarkily commented that newcomer Guillen was batting cleanup today as a reward for his “brutal drop” in yesterday’s game. From behind me on the View Deck above home, a woman yells “This is why we got you, Guillen!” Yes it is: José Guillen singles and the Giants are back on top, this time to stay, thanks to closer Brian Wilson.

Having to produce nine runs to prevent getting swept at home by the last-place Snakes makes for an exciting game, but does not inspire a great deal of confidence as the regular season enters its final month. In the National League, six teams compete for the four playoff spots. With today’s 9-7 win, the Giants are five games behind the Padres for the western division title, and a game-and-a-half behind the Phillies for the wild card slot.

A three-game series begins tonight against division rivals the Colorado Rockies.

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