Getting Cained: How one pitcher's mentality set the tone for a dynasty

Getting Cained: How one pitcher's mentality set the tone for a dynasty

SAN FRANCISCO — On May 1, 2012, one month after signing a long-term extension and six weeks before he would throw his perfect game, Matt Cain dominated the Marlins. Cain was 27 years old at the time and in his prime, and he gave up just two earned runs over eight innings. He struck out four, got 10 outs on the ground, and threw just 102 pitches before giving up the ball.

He also took the loss. 

That night would be a tough one to swallow for any pitcher. For Cain, it was just more of what he had gotten used to. Since 2006, his first full season, Cain is a distant last in Major League Baseball in run support. At 4.01 runs per game, he is well behind runner-up Paul Maholm (4.28). After that 2-1 loss in 2012, he stood at his locker and tipped his cap to counterpart Ricky Nolaso. 

“I knew that he’s thrown pretty well here and I knew I was going to have to battle,” Cain said. “I just made a couple more mistakes than he did.”

Cain will make his 331st and final start for the Giants on Saturday. To understand why it is such a big deal for his teammates and the organization, look past the postseason wins, the perfect game and the All-Star selections. Look at how Cain handled himself on the dozens of nights when he pitched well enough to win, received no run support, and calmly stood at his locker after the game and placed the blame squarely on his own shoulders. It happened so many times that pitchers in this organization will forever be known as getting “Cained” when they suffer similar luck.

“That’s what I probably admire as much as anything I saw from a player, is how he handled some of those tough games that we lost where he would go out and just throw a beautiful game and get beat 1-0 or 2-1,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It was just amazing how many times it happened, but he’s unflappable and he didn’t let it bother him. He had the attitude of, ‘I’ll do all I can to help this team win, and you can’t control some things.’ He didn’t let it get to him, and that’s what makes him special.”

Cain laughed this week when recounting how he first started to hear about fans embracing the brutal nights. “It’s probably not exactly what you want to have coined, but it happened,” he said of getting Cained. But as he winds down a run with the organization that started with the 2002 draft, Cain said getting Cained is not a part of his legacy that actually bothers him. If anything, he views those nights as a positive. 

“In a weird way I think it kind of paid off, because we were used to playing those close games once it came to playoff time,” he said. “There were a lot of crunch-time games and I think the guys in the rotation during those (postseason games) understood, ‘Hey, I’ve been in this spot a ton of times. I know what it’s like to be behind 1-0 or 2-0. Let’s just keep it here.’

“In a weird way, I think that’s a benefit. There’s a way you can look at it as being a positive and we tried to find ways to do that.”

It’s hard to find fault with that when you look at how Cain actually performed in the postseason. He had a 2.10 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in eight career October starts. In 2010, his first postseason, he didn’t allow an earned run in 21 1/3 innings. Two years later, he started the clincher in all three series victories. Cain said he fought nerves for two days before starting the NLDS win over the Reds that year, but teammates never saw any fear.

Cain is famously calm, carrying the same flat tone through all interactions. Just as he rarely showed excess emotion during those postseason starts, he was not one to be outwardly annoyed on the many nights when he deserved better. He said he learned that lesson from Randy Johnson and other veterans who passed through as he was finding his big league footing. 

“Once that comes out of your mouth, it’s just so easy to keep repeating it,” he said of the blame game. “Obviously people are going to get frustrated about situations they’re in, but you’ve got to be able to bite your tongue and understand that there could be a bigger picture somewhere down the road.”

That meant not being bothered by the record on the scoreboard, which at all times should have been better. Cain enters his final start with a 104-118 record and he’s tied for fifth in wins in San Francisco Giants history. But he should be much higher on the list.

Cain has 55 starts in his career where he went at least seven innings, allowed two-or-fewer earned runs, and didn’t get a win. He has six starts where he threw seven shutout innings and got a no-decision, and twice he threw nine shutout innings and then watched as the Giants won in extras. 

It’s one thing to get a no-decision on those nights, but it’s a bit harder when you actually take a loss.

In 17 of his starts, Cain has pitched at least seven innings, given up two-or-fewer runs, and taken a loss. On two occasions, he went seven innings, gave up just one unearned run, and ended up the losing pitcher. 

It’s a part of Cain’s legacy that the team’s hitters wish didn’t exist. But for the pitching staff, those games made Cain a shining example of how to deal with big league life. 

“I think you know the right way to handle it, but so few people are able to do it,” said Madison Bumgarner, who has six complete-game losses in his career. “It helped reinforce it to young guys who saw the way he handled things. I don’t know if I ever saw him make an unprofessional move.”

Report: Tim Lincecum throws 90-93 MPH at showcase


Report: Tim Lincecum throws 90-93 MPH at showcase

Tim Lincecum was back on a mound Thursday, trying to prove to teams once again that he still has a little bit of magic left in his right arm. 

The former Giants star held a bullpen session for scouts Thursday in Seattle. The event was closed to the media, but Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that between 25 and 30 scouts were in attendance. 

And Lincecum may have some of his velocity back. According to Heyman, Lincecum was sitting between 90 and 93 miles per hour. 

Lincecum last pitched in 2016 with the Angels. In that season, his fastball averaged just 88.4 miles per hour. In nine starts with the Angels, Lincecum was nowhere near what he once was and went 2-6 with a 9.16 ERA. 

The Giants planned to be at Lincecum's showcase, according to Insider Alex Pavlovic. 

Over nine seasons with the Giants, Lincecum posted a 108-83 record and a 3.61 ERA. He won back-to-back National Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009, was a four-time All-Star and led the league in strikeouts three times. 

Slater fighting for outfield job after Giants' offseason overhaul


Slater fighting for outfield job after Giants' offseason overhaul

SCOTTSDALE — Catchers are usually the only position players to hit on the main field during the first few days of spring training, but Austin Slater snuck into a group Thursday to take a few cuts. With manager Bruce Bochy leaning against the back of the cage, perhaps Slater’s session will serve as a reminder: I’m still here, don’t forget about me.

The 25-year-old broke through last summer before injuries halted his progress. As Slater focused on getting healthy this offseason, Bobby Evans focused on overhauling the outfield. That has left several familiar faces in precarious spots, and Slater finds himself fighting for a fifth outfielder job a year after batting .282 in his first 117 big league at-bats. 

At the same time, he’s trying to balance competition with health. He wants to push for an Opening Day job, but also is very aware that he needs to back it down at times as he recovers from sports hernia surgery.

“You want to prove that you can play here and win a job, but (the staff) stressed health over everything,” he said. “It does no good to push and then start the season on the DL. For me, health is the most important thing. I feel like if I’m healthy I can prove myself. There’s nothing I can prove on the DL.”

Slater originally tore his groin on July 8 and the Giants thought it would prove to be a season-ending injury. He worked his way back ahead of schedule, though, seeing limited action before sports hernia surgery the last week of September. “They went in there and cleaned up the groin,” he said, smiling where others might grimace. The procedure kept Slater from playing in the Dominican Republic as planned, although that might have been a blessing in disguise. 

The Giants were aggressive with their winter ball plans because so many young players got hurt during the season. But Jarrett Parker lasted just 24 hours before being sent home with a health issue. Christian Arroyo’s hand swelled up soon after he arrived, and he headed home. Ryder Jones immediately got food poisoning and lost 12 pounds in just over three weeks before player and team decided a mutual parting would be beneficial. 

Slater stayed home throughout, living in the Bay Area and rehabbing. The Giants told him to focus on his rehab instead of lost at-bats and then come out and try to win a job in Scottsdale. By mid-November, he was hitting again. By Thanksgiving, he was on a regular lifting and running schedule. In late January, he felt like his old self again. 

For the Giants, that means a versatile option in a new-look outfield. Slater had a .290/.343/.430 slash line going before his first injury and he’s working to tap into more power. As Bruce Bochy pointed out Thursday, Slater has a long history of putting up numbers at every level. 

“He really did a nice job of figuring out what it takes to play in the major leagues, and he has a tendency throughout his career to just get better,” Bochy said. “You have to love his right-handed bat. He’s got some pop. I think he can play all three outfield positions, so he’s in the mix.”

The Giants have Andrew McCutchen in right and Hunter Pence in left and Austin Jackson as the third guy, and Bochy’s preference is to have a true center fielder as his fourth outfielder. That leaves Slater fighting for the fifth job, alongside many others. No matter what he did last year or does this spring, Slater has options remaining, and that will come into play. A year after using 13 different players in left field, the staff is intent on having greater depth at the Triple-A level. 

Slater is a Stanford product who spent the offseason surrounded by Giants fans. He knows the math after the offseason moves.

“It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “It just adds some great guys to learn from, and there are still outfield spots to be won, so it’s not discouraging, it’s encouraging. I didn’t expect them to keep an open roster spot for a guy with 120 at-bats. We’re trying to win a championship here.”