Giants can count magic number on one hand

September 20, 2012, 6:43 am
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BOX SCORESAN FRANCISCO Bruce Bochy has leafed through his share of leadershipbooks. He is always looking for new ways to connect with and motivate hisplayers.

He picked up a new one Wednesday night: When Pablo Sandovalis in a power drought, just have the starting pitchers start ribbing him inbatting practice.

We were actually talking to him earlier today that hehadnt hit a home run since, like, three years ago, right-hander Matt Cainsaid. (Madison) Bumgarner was giving him some grief.

Sandoval gave it right back to Colorado Rockies right-handerTyler Chatwood. On a pitch that only the Panda could keep fair, he got his batout in front of a 1-2 slider at the ankles and clanked it off the pole abovethe right field arcade.

Sandovals three-run homer in the first inning was all Cainneeded. He improved to 14-0 when receiving at least three runs of support, andthe Giants reduced their magic number to five with a 7-1 victory at AT&TPark.

Now they can count down an NL West title on one hand. AndSandoval no longer has to count back to July 8 to find his last home run.

Ive been on the DL so many times, said Sandoval, who hasmissed time with a fractured hand and a strained hamstring. Im just trying toget my rhythm and timing at home plate.

It was a backfoot slider. I dont know how I hit it.

It was the first of three hits for Sandoval, who celebratedhis homer with a nose-to-beard, jump-around dance with injured closer BrianWilson in the dugout. Then Sandoval made sure to seek out Bumgarner.

Yeah, I said something to him, a beaming Sandoval said. Ifinally got one.

Bumgarner has hit two homers this season, including one earlier this month, and never cheats himself on a swing. Sandoval had taken some overly aggressive cuts in recent weeks, too.

Sometimes its important to get out of the way and itcame at a good time, Bochy said.

It was the 23rd home run for the Giants in 74games AT&T Park this season and just the third with at least two menaboard. Buster Posey and Hunter Pence own the other three-run shots. The Giantsdont have a grand slam at home yet this season.

Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro continued to createopportunities and the Giants offense continues to get all manner of timelycontributions. Even Gregor Blanco appeared to be fresh and healthy whilecollecting three hits.

Its all coming together for the Giants, who suddenly hold anine-game advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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Could they hope to play any better?

Youd always like to think theres another level for anyteam, Cain said. It depends on how much you want to put into it. Well keepthat in mind and not just settle.

Cain is not settling for a career-best 15thvictory. Hes expected to get two more starts, and without any adjustments,hed be lined up to pitch Game 1 of the NLDS with one extra day of rest.

It feels good to finally get past that 14th,Cain said. But you know what? Weve got games left and I dont want to stopnow.

Cain put a stop to one thing Wednesday night. By completingeight innings (for just the first time by a Giants starter since Barry Zito didit Aug. 23 vs. Atlanta), Cain kept Bochy from wearing a hiking trail betweenthe dugout and the mound.

Bochy made just one pitching change. Jose Mijares pitchedthe ninth and George Kontos got loose on the mound. Thats a welcome changefrom the seven- and eight-reliever parades that have led to long games andtaxed arms in the late innings.

Bochy said he was not going to use a couple of his shortrelievers, which made Cains contribution even more vital.

And hey, a game under three hours? That aint too shabby,either.

Ill have to get on the treadmill tonight to get my workoutin, Bochy said.

Cain never shies away from a full workload. He exceeded 200innings for the sixth consecutive season.

Only Juan Marichal (11) and Gaylord Perry (7) have more200-inning seasons in the Giants San Francisco era. And both of those guys arein the Hall of Fame.

I dont want to go into whos the ace or whatever, but hesa horse, Bochy said. He can handle the innings. He always has. Werefortunate to have a rotation thats been healthy all year and making theirstarts. Thats so important.

Soon Bochy will have to choose a Game 1 starter from amongthem. Cain would appear the obvious choice.

Heres one more reason: He has a 2.17 ERA in 14 starts atAT&T Park -- the third best home ERA among NL starters. And since the Giantsare likely to open as the No. 3 seed, they would play their first two games athome.

They could follow Cain with Bumgarner and hold Tim Lincecumin Game 3 on the road, where he has won five consecutive starts.

But thats not a subject Bochy is willing to touch yet. Theycould clinch the division as soon as Saturday. All the motivation they need isright in front of them.

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