The road to win No. 100 has been bumpy for Matt Cain; hamstring strains, flexor strains and bone spurs pushed him to the back of the San Francisco Giants rotation and kept him constantly in flux.
It took him three years to collect six wins — he won eight in 2013 and 16 the year before — but Sunday afternoon, Cain’s seventh win since 2014 put years of injury woes into perspective.
Cain pitched five innings of wild, no-hit ball against the Nationals to seal his 100th career win, boosting him in the ranks with Juan Marichal (238), Gaylord Perry (134), Tim Lincecum (108), Kirk Rueter (105) and Mike McCormick (104) as the only pitchers to win 100 games all in a Giants uniform.
It’s been a rough go of it for The Horse, but a milestone win just weeks after recovering from yet another injury (hamstring) gave Cain time to reflect:
“I definitely choked up a little bit.”
The near-11 year veteran celebrated with his team after their momentum-rolling 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals the best way they could:
“We went with a nice, high-class Bud Light.”
Bruce Bochy, who’s been with the Giants since Cain’s sophomore season, has seen what his one-time ace has dealt with:
“It’s been a long road for him, with the injuries … to see him bounce back and throw well, it’s going to be critical that he continue to throw like this.”
The ask of Cain this season has been to hold on and limit the damage; to simply keep the team in the game. He did that and more Sunday, tossing five wild, yet effective innings of no-hit ball. He walked four, struck out five and hit one batter using 93 pitches—just 48 for strikes.
But the untouchable cloud on which Cain was floating had to evaporate; in typical Cain-start style, his offense had only managed one run — thanks to a botched double play with runners on the corners — and Cain’s pitch count was practically spent, said Bochy:
“I guess you could say he was effectively wild … he was close to 100 pitches, so that’s why I had to get him.”
That’s when this wild afternoon peaked: Madison Bumgarner, who’s been in Bruce Bochy’s ear all weekend, finally got his pinch hitter’s shot. He led off the fifth inning by doubling off the right field wall, naturally, and former Notre Dame wide receiver Samardzija took his spot as a pinch runner.
Samardzija scored from second on a bad throw from Nats third baseman Anthony Rendon off Hunter Pence’s ground ball. The Giants had a 2-0 lead.
Cain cheered from the dugout:
“We got to use everybody to be a part of it [his 100th].”
“The way Bum swung it, it was cool to see him go oppo.”
Bumgarner said he was happy to contribute when he wasn’t pitching. But is Samardzija really that much faster than him on the base paths? Bumgarner laughed:
“Have you seen [Samardzija’s] highlight video?”
Bochy noted that Samardzija’s been “politicking” for a shot at pinch hitting, but Bumgarner is now a career 3-for-8 with a walk in that role. He also hit a double when he hit for himself in that game at the Oakland Coliseum.
The combined no-hitter was immediately broken up upon Cain’s departure; George Kontos gave up a leadoff single to Bryce Harper, who eventually scored the Nats only run on Rendon’s double.
Kontos shouldered all three of the Nats collective hits. The rest of the Giants bullpen — the same one that caused so much stress in the first half — pitched three more innings of hitless ball to shut this series down.
Let’s talk about the bullpen for a bit. Derek Law and Hunter Strickland have had a breakout couple of days.
Law hasn’t given up a run in eight innings in this second half, said Bochy:
“He’s had a big role and he’s going to be a guy I’ll use anywhere … He’s a four-pitch guy with velocity.”
Strickland has been trusted as more than righty a matchup pitcher, handling entire innings (sometimes more) with a 2.57 ERA and nine strikeouts in seven innings this second half. The bullpen’s kept the momentum alive, Bochy noted.
The trade deadline is nearing a close and the Giants have yet to pick up another arm. The asking prices are high, Bobby Evans noted before the game. But the way Santiago Casilla has been pitching lately may ease closer concerns. He blew a save in San Diego, but has cleaned it up since, giving up just one run on two hits through four innings in the second half.
Angel Pagan pocketed the team’s only hit with RISP — they’ve worked their way to one per game — capitalizing on a leadoff triple from pinch hitter Denard Span.
Span, who was out of the lineup with a quad injury, looked pretty healthy as he sped to third and home. But he tiptoed gingerly back to the dugout after crossing the plate.
Mac Williamson left the game in the sixth after jamming his shoulder on an attempted catch in right field. He took tests and is playing day-to-day. He left the game unsure if he’d be able to swing the bat, but did have the wherewithal to dribble the ball to third base for a key force out.
Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.