"Now we give the ball to Matt," said Giants closer Brian Wilson after his team's 11-7 Game 1 bludgeoning of the Rangers. "And we expect him to do what he's done all year for us: pitch very well. We like our chances with Matt on the mound."
They should. Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Lincecum have been the talk of October, but Cain is the ace who has yet to allow an earned run this postseason. With Lincecum far from his best in Game 1, the Rangers squandered a golden opportunity to take the early lead in the series. Things do not get any easier for the Texas hitters facing Cain, who with his NLCS Game 3 masterpiece against the Phillies became the first postseason starter since Atlanta's Steve Avery in 1991 to allow no earned runs in each of his first two postseason starts. Asked at his locker after Game 1 what he expects from the Giants starter, Josh Hamilton shrugged, "To be honest, I haven't got a clue. I'm looking forward to getting back here early and watching some video."
This has been the Year of the Pitcher, then the Postseason of the Pitcher. Then, the first game of the World Series was something that no one saw coming: a slugfest. With Cain and the Rangers' C.J. Wilson taking the mound in Game 2, we may very well get the pitchers' duel that everyone expected to see in Game 1. But the Giants have the edge on Thursday night. Like Lee, Wilson is a left-hander facing the challenge of a predominantly right-handed (and now very confident) Giants lineup.
"For me it's going to be important to mix my pitches well," says Wilson. "Against left-handed lineups, generally I can just throw fastballs, so it makes it easy. But with righties, I've got to kind of keep them guessing a little bit more."
Cain has the more favorable matchup as he, too, faces a predominantly right-handed lineup -- right-handers hit .217 off him this season. Cain, the longest-tenured player on the Giants' playoff roster, has a chance to shine after toiling for years as one of baseball's biggest hard-luck losers. From 2006 through 2009 he was one of the best young starters in the game, but has a 42-49 record during that span. He lost 16 games in 2007 despite a 3.65 ERA that ranked 10th in the league, and the Giants supported him with a major league-low 3.14 runs per start in 2008, when he went 8-14 with a 3.76 ERA.
This year Cain (13-11 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in the regular season) has been better than ever -- and maybe even better than Lincecum. The difference? "Command," says Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "He's commanding his fastball and his secondary pitches, he's throwing strikes and he's getting it where he wants. That's what's made him a different pitcher. He has evolved to a complete pitcher from what he was at a younger age, when he was pretty much a power guy. He's got a good slider, curveball and changeup. He has good command of them, and when he does, that's when he pitches well."
Lincecum is the skinny hipster from the Seattle area, Cain the big-shouldered country boy from Alabama. Lincecum wears his uniform pants long and baggy. Cain is old school with the high socks. The two are a study in contrasts, but under the October lights, both have proven to be as cool as a breeze off McCovey Cove. Asked during Wednesday's pregame press conference how "you fall asleep before a World Series start," Cain deadpanned, "You close your eyes."
Cain was sitting at his locker after Wednesday night's game, fooling with his phone, when the media scrum barged into the clubhouse. Reporters crowded around Aubrey Huff's locker space and spilled into Cain's, where he sat alone. "Guess I'm not supposed to be here," he said to no one in particular.
On Thursday night, all eyes, at last, will be on Matt Cain.