By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 1:18 AM
Many thought the 2010 postseason might be dominated by one almost untouchable pitcher whose ERA might approach zero, zilch, 0.00. In this Year of the Pitcher, his name might be Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia or Roy Oswalt. They'd pitched no-hitters or perfect games, made runs at a Cy Young Award or been almost untouchable down the stretch. Even Tim Hudson, Francisco Liriano and Cole Hamels had backers.
Somebody forgot to tell Matt Cain.
Maybe it ticked the big man off. After 72/3 shutout innings of victorious ball against the Texas Rangers in Game 2 of the World Series, Cain now has that easy-to-remember ERA of 0.00 in 211/3 innings over three October starts. Now, the Rangers have merely joined the Braves and Phillies as teams with nothing except one unearned division-series run off the 6-foot-3, 245-pound right-hander.
After a 9-0 win that was still a 2-0 pitcher's duel when Cain left in the eighth inning, the Giants have a two-games-to-none sleeper hold on this Series. Throughout history, teams that have taken such quick leads have ended up as champion 79 percent of the time. Since Cain would await the Rangers back here in a Game 6, if necessary, the odds against Texas now look at least that bad.
Things change fast this time of year. Lee gets torched one night. So much for riding on Superman's cape. The next night you discover that Cain owns you. Entering this game, Texas hitters, in their careers, had a combined .109 batting average off him. Okay, smallish sample size. Not anymore. Until they prove otherwise, the Rangers look unable to beat Cain.
Until this month, Cain, 26, was famous only for his bad luck. Every form of analysis shows that, with normal run support, he'd be a star. But, year after year, San Francisco never scores for him, so his career record is 57-62. A loser with a 3.45 career ERA!?
"Matt should be recognized. He's had some bad luck over the years. . . . He's been our most consistent pitcher since Day One," Manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's such a bulldog."
Finally, Cain discovered a solution for that lack of recognition. Even the Giants can't stop him from getting his due if he never gives up an earned run. So, he hasn't.
In this Game 2, Cain probably made the Giants world champions for the first time since they came to California in 1958. This has not turned out to be Lee's Series. But it's quickly becoming Cain's postseason. And the Rangers haven't even seen the Giants' third ace, lefty Jonathan Sanchez whose 3.07 ERA was lower than Cain's 3.14 this season and who strikes out more men and allowed the fewest hits per inning in the National League this season.
It's quickly becoming clear that this postseason wasn't about the Yankees' payroll, the Phillies' attempt for a third straight pennant or the Rangers' first Series visit in 50 seasons. It starting to look like the true purpose of the exercise is to show how good the Giants' young starting pitching staff really is, especially working in cavernous AT&T Park. None of the four are over 27 and Madison "the Future" Bumgarner, due to start Game 4, is 21.
How good are the Giants' starters? The highest-paid Giant is Barry Zito at $16 million this season. And he was left off the team for the entire postseason even though he started 33 games, and pitched 1991/3 innings to a credible 4.15 ERA. He wasn't bad. He just wasn't exceptional enough to be in the Giants' rotation.
Maybe the Rangers' homer-haven ballpark will help deflate the Giant hurlers. Maybe getting Vlad Guerrero's bat back in the lineup as designated hitter will help. It better or this extremely promising Series may not come back to the Bay. Or, if it does, Cain may be standing here next Wednesday ready to slam the door.
"Those guys have been good, especially Cain. Just tip your hat to their pitching," Texas Manager Ron Washington said.
"We haven't gotten any breaks yet," added Washington, alluding to a 399-foot double to center by Ian Kinsler when the game was still 0-0 in the fifth inning. The blast hit the very top of the wall - and came back. Another inch equals home run. "There's still a lot of baseball to be played. They took care of us in their ballpark. Now we're headed back to ours."
Sounds good, sounds brave. But the Giants get to bring their pitchers, too. Remember when the Braves showed up unexpectedly in a World Series in '91 with young guys named Smoltz, Glavine and Avery? The Giants' starters are 27, 26, 26 and 21. As Lincecum has been less consistently overpowering, Cain may be its leader.
However, Cain was modest enough to admit how much of a break he caught on Kinsler's fifth-inning blast. The final score may be 9-0, the forfeit score, but this game hung in the balance precariously through the middle innings. "I thought it was a home run. I thought it hit something behind the wall and came back," Cain said. "When I saw him still standing on second I thought, 'Hey, try to keep that guy there.' " So, he did.
"Matt had command of his fastball on both sides of the plate. He threw all his pitches where he wanted to," said rookie catcher Buster Posey, who may be handling this fistful of aces for many years. "You saw him really bare down [in the sixth inning] against [Nelson] Cruz and Kinsler with men on second and third with one out." Net for Texas: Two pop flies.
Perhaps the gist of Cain's personally was revealed the day before this game when he was asked, "How do you sleep the night before a start in the World Series?
"Close your eyes," he answered.
Told that the media had mostly picked the Rangers in this Series, Cain said, "If that's what they're writing, I guess we'll have to change it." No further elaboration necessary.
Get to know this guy. Shortish hair, wears his socks high like the old days and his hat perched on top of his head, giving him a distinctly Denny McLain look and demeanor.
"Matt's a horse, he's our big guy our there - a power fastball, location pitcher. He's definitely an intimidator," the Giants' Aubrey Huff said. "He doesn't seem to get rattled. He's fearless."
In these first two games, the Giants seemed nervous for a couple of innings, but the Rangers have seemed uncomfortable throughout. With their less-than-humble franchise history, have they gone a bridge too far for their own sense of themselves?
"I was watching Jay Leno and he's talking about the World Series and talking about the Texas Rangers and I'm thinking, 'Gosh, that sounds strange,' " Rangers President Nolan Ryan said before the game. "I think it puts us on the map. . . . Now you walk through the airport in New York and you see people wearing Texas memorabilia. . . . Our fans didn't even wear it to the ballpark when I came in '08."
The Giants may also have an edge in team identity. The Rangers are close-knit, but intensely sane. The Giants are close-knit and working hard to figure out how to be crazier every day. Has anybody got a more outrageous idea than the lucky red thong that Huff has been wearing for heaven knows how long?
"I'm just trying to fit in with these morons," Huff said. "I have to go a little bit over the top just to try to fit in. I'm probably very tame compared to this group. As weird as we are, it's strange to say that the weirder you are, it seems like the more you win."
Here by the Bay any homage to Nuke LaLoosh wearing Annie Savoy's garter belt to the mound is sure to be appreciated. But, right now, it's Cain who's wearing least of all: an invisible ERA.