Pirates pillage Giants’ sinking ship with sweep

Matt Cain had a one-hitter through four innings. The lineup behind him provided four runs in support.

Any Giants fan watching the past few weeks could smell smoke — a comfortable lead was too good to be true.

Fate finally corrected itself in the fifth inning. Cain (L, 4-8, 5.81 ERA) suddenly lost his release point and gave up six runs on just two hits — including an Andrew McCutchen two-run bomb — to seal the Pirates 6-5 series sweeper.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

It was an odd turn of events, so odd that it’s hard not to discount fate. The Giants’ struggles this home stand are due in part to epic pitching collapses and this game was no different.

The Giants had won four of Cain’s last five starts, so it seemed possible that his first few solid innings signaled a bucked trend. He was showing strikeout stuff and held only 52 pitches through the first four innings, he said:

“We were just doing a good job keeping guys off balance.”

A path was cleared for Cain’s first complete game since his perfecto way back in 2012. But then he lost his release point in the fifth, and Bruce Bochy didn’t know when to say ‘when’:

“I stuck (with him) a little long there, I’ll be honest.”

Bochy had Jake Peavy warming up in the bullpen amid a no-out, hit-by-pitch, three-walk bonanza that put the Pirates on the board, yet he made no moves.

He stood down when pinch hitter Matt Joyce knocked two more runs in with the team’s second hit, when Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly–the first out of the inning– to tie the game at 4-4 and Starling Marte flew out for a second out:

“I thought it looked like he found (his release point) again and it looked like he could get out of that inning tied.”

Instead, Andrew McCutchen rocked the first pitch he saw deep to left to put the Pirates up 6-4.

Cain said he just fell out of whack. He wasn’t far off on those disastrous pitches, he noted, but he hated to let a rare lead go:

“With everything that’s been going on, we didn’t need that to happen today.”

The lineup behind him knocked in four whole runs of support off Ivan Nova. The game, other than that fifth inning, was coming up all Giants, Bochy noted:

“A lot of good things happened for us in that game. That one inning got away from us.”

The heart of the lineup has been swinging the bat well, Bochy noted. Wednesday, they provided a solid lead in what might have tempted fans to believe this one could be different.

Buster Posey hit an RBI single and Brandon Crawford an RBI double to put the Giants up 2-0 in the first. Crawford tacked the next two on in the third with a base-clearing RBI triple.

Posey, who’s been struggling on the base paths with a sore back, scored two of those runs all the way from first base. The offense, and third base coach Roberto Kelly, have been aggressive with every opportunity, said Bochy:

“It’s a two run game and the way we were swinging, I felt pretty good.”

The bullpen kept this team in it, pitching 4-1/3 innings of scoreless ball.

The effort prompted one last, cruel ninth-inning threat with the bases loaded and no outs. Expectations low.

Posey hit into a double play that ultimately scored Eduardo Nuñez to put the Giants within one. Crawford flew out to end it.

So the fifth inning pitching collapse turned out to be the difference. The Giants were swept. They fall to 9-21 in the second half and will be chilling in second place for at least another day.

The Giants head to Los Angeles after this home stand for a three-game series against their rivals. The big question during and after this Cain start: will the Giants take the off-day opportunity to go Madison BumgarnerJohnny CuetoMatt Moore?

Cain is projected to start the first game there, but his shaky start may prompt a shift Bochy rarely makes. It’s risky to keep a starter on the bench for that long. Cain said he’d be disappointed to skip a start down in Los Angeles:

“Those are big games in LA and those are games you look forward to.”

Bochy hasn’t made a decision yet, of course. They’re focused on the Mets, who come in to town for a four-game series. Tomorrow’s matchup: Madison Bumgarner versus Jacob deGrom.


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.