Matt Cain

Like I mentioned in our latest Heat Check, I will be writing game stories for San Francisco Giants playoff games. If the Giants lose quickly, it will be short and sweet. If they last for a while, I’ll be writing every other day for several weeks.

Everything had fallen right for the Giants before the the first inning of their division series playoff game against the Cincinnati Reds had ended. With the weird home-field advantage rules, they’d play the first two games at home against the power-hitting team. AT&T Park is one of the least generous ball parks when it comes to homeruns. And the Giants pitchers’, especially game one ace Matt Cain, know how to pitch to the dimensions. The goal was to steal the first two games at home and only have to win one at the Great American Ballpark to take the series.

After just one out in the first inning of the game, Red’s ace Johnny Cueto hopped around hurt before having to leave the game with back spasms. Bullet dodged for the Giants? No.

Dusty Baker had to manage a situation that rarely happens in baseball; what do you do when your starting pitcher has to come out with no one ready to replace him? David Schoenfield laid out the options for Baker. Rather than turn the game completely over to the bullpen, possibly depleting it in the first game of the series, Baker gave the ball first to reliever Sam LeCure to finish Cueto’s first inning and then a second, before turning the ball over to game three starter and Giants arch-nemesis, Mat Latos.

Latos is the biggest thorn in the Giants’ side in San Francisco not named Clayton Kershaw. He has a sub-2.00 ERA historically at AT&T Park and probably desperately wanted to be named one of the two starters in San Francisco. He got his chance in the third inning and threw four innings of one-run ball. That one run was from a Buster Posey solo homerun that barely cleared the fence in left field.

The Reds played to script early on. Brandon Phillips deposited a Matt Cain mistake for a 2-run homerun in the third inning and then Cain gave up a solo shot to Jay Bruce in the fourth. So much for thwarting the power. Bruce has ownage on Cain, with eight hits in fifteen at bats lifetime. Cain was on a short leash, going only five innings and throwing just seventy five pitches. With the Giants needing base runners, Bochy pinch-hit for Cain to lead off the 5th with Aubrey Huff. Huff popped out weakly. With Cain only throwing seventy five pitches, it opens up the possibility for him to come back on four days rest in game four in Cincinnati. Not that Bochy said anything about that, but in an elimination game, I think Bochy could come back with his best pitcher on short rest.

The rest of the rotation is a bit of a mystery for the Giants which is why game one was must-win. Game two starter Madison Bumgarner is much better at home than on the road (10-3 with a 2.38 ERA vs. 6-8 with a 4.40 ERA), but he seemed to tire at the end of the season as his ERA for September and October was 5.47. And after Bumgarner, it’s even more of a mystery. Bruce Bochy failed to announce his starting rotation past the first two games, which isn’t necessarily a vote of confidence for Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, or Ryan Vogelsong. I imagine each guy knows his role and Bochy wants to keep the Reds in the dark, but I don’t buy his excuse that he needed to save a starter for long relief for the first two games.

The first two starters, Cain and Bumgarner, averaged over 6 1/2 innings per start this season, and that number climbs to over seven innings when they pitch at home. I can’t buy that Bochy had so little faith in his two best pitchers over the season that he couldn’t announce the rest of his rotation because he may have needed someone to pitch long relief. He either hasn’t made up his mind, or he wanted to hold an edge on the Reds somehow, sort of like how Bill Bellichick doesn’t give out a lot of information about his team’s injuries. But psychologically, I’m not sure it gives them an edge. We’ll have to see in game three, where I’d expect Lincecum to take the ball.

The Giants best chance to score was in the 8th inning with the Reds up 3-1. Jonathan Broxton was in to pitch the 8th before giving way to closer Aroldis Champman in the 9th. Buster Posey pushed a single into right field with one out. After Hunter Pence flied out, Brandon Belt walked for the second time in the game. Gregor Blanco took the count to 3-2 before taking a called third strike on the outside corner to end the threat. The next time they batted, the Reds had added two runs to stretch the lead. While they made Chapman work in the 9th, he struck out Buster Posey with three-digit gas to end the game.

In 2010, when the Giants beat the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Texas Rangers to win the World Series, they won game one of all three playoff series’. They’ll have to find a different way. Now, Sunday’s game becomes must-must-win for the Giants. Facing elimination and having to win three games in-a-row in Cincinnati would be nearly impossible.

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