Cain raising his game when it matters most

Unlike his more high-profile teammate Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain doesn’t have a cool nickname, a unique delivery on the mound or an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

He does, however, have an arsenal of lethal pitches, and on Tuesday he displayed all of them in a gutty 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park.

Following up on his stellar postseason debut, Cain didn’t allow a run in seven innings on Tuesday, striking out five, while allowing just two hits to extend his streak of not allowing an earned run in the playoffs to 13²⁄³ innings. On Oct. 8, Cain went 6²⁄³ innings, giving up just one unearned run, and  didn’t register a decision in the Giants’ 5-4 loss to Atlanta in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

Although he lacked precision at times Tuesday — he walked three and hit two other batters — Cain managed to consistently find the right pitches to record key outs in the contest.

With his pitch count well over 100 — he would finish the day with 119 — Cain managed to induce Shane Victorino to hit a harmless grounder with two outs and two men on in the seventh inning, ending the Phillies’ last scoring threat of the day.
“When he got in trouble today, he got better, it seemed like,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. “He made the right pitches at the right time and got people out.”

Normally the team’s No. 2 starter, Giants manager Bruce Bochy opted to push Cain back to Game 3 of the NLCS, due in large part to the right-hander’s past struggles against the Phillies. Those troubles never surfaced on Tuesday, as Cain didn’t allow a runner past second base in leading the Giants to a 2-1 series lead. He also didn’t show any signs of rust after going 10 days between starts.

“I just tried to focus on making my pitches and getting into a pitching count, where I’m ahead and I can make the hitters a little more defensive,” said Cain, who entered the contest with a 6.23 ERA and an 0-3 lifetime record against the Phillies.
The longest-tenured member of the Giants, Cain called Tuesday’s win his best performance yet with the team.

“This has got be to the top one,” said Cain, who has been with the team since 2005. “To be able to throw the ball well in the postseason and help your team get the win is a great feeling.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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