Ratto: Cain Shuts Down Phils' Mutiny

October 20, 2010, 12:55 am
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Buster Posey is young for a catcher, and careful about what he says. So when he grows quiet in response to a question, youre never sure whether hes trying to say the right thing, or the truthful one.

So when he was asked which Giants starter at his best is the easiest to catch, he paused, stroked his chin (well, sort of) and said, Probably (Matt) Cain.

And why? Because of what you saw Tuesday.

Just his command, the Giant rookie said. Jonny (Sanchez) and Timmy (do you have to ask?), their stuff is so electric. Timmys fastball moves all over the place, and Jonny has so much deception. But Matt? Just the command thing again. All four pitches. Thats it.

So to summarize the Giants 3-0 win over Philadelphia in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, Cain simply commanded the Phillies to death. All four pitches. All four corners. Not so much surgically as cold-bloodedly. Morticians have more expressions, but few pitchers have more ways to make an at-bat end.

Cain allowed the Phillies seven baserunners in seven innings, three as far as second base. Only five saw a 2-0 pitch, and only one, Ryan Howard in the second, made you wonder if a Giant defender could track down the ball.

He was Matt Cain in his totality.

When he needed a fastball to run up and in to make a statement, it went up and in. When he needed a changeup to go away, it landed there. Of his 21 outs, 11 came on fastballs, six on changeups, two on curve balls and two more on sliders.

But while Cain has no beard to fear, or rodeo stories, or really anything that suggests a wacky secret life, thus precluding a killer quote that sums up his day, his year or his life, maybe the quote that works best is Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuels:

You know, when the game starts, thats when youre supposed to hit, he said. Now if you dont hit, thats kind of . . . youre kind of on your own when you leave a dugout.

He was speaking specifically of Chase Utley, the second baseman who took a quiet 0-for-4, but there wasnt a lot that separated Utley from his eight teammates. Cain threw 119 pitches, 17 per inning, but never looked like danger truly loomed. A few questioners asked Posey to break down the Shane Victorino at-bat in the seventh, with Carlos Ruiz at second and Ross Gload at first, but Posey could only shrug and say, It was a fastball.

Yes, it certainly was, one which he bounced harmlessly to second baseman Freddy Sanchez. It was one the 17 outs he kept within the confines of the infield, one more reason why he made the Phillies looks so thoroughly inert. They drove one ball, Howards in the second.

Given that, Cain needs no beard, no rally rag, no deep inspirational speech to get him to his happy place. Even when Bruce Bochy went to check on him in the seventh, he asked Cain if he was all right to keep going.

He was just asking how I was feeling, just kind of instilling that he had confidence in me, Cain said. It didnt sound like he wanted to take me out of the game, but he was trying to -- Weve got confidence in you, make your pitches and we can get this guy out.

Resisting the temptation to say, Who is this we of whom you speak? Cain nodded and said, Yes. And five pitches later, he and the Giants were home and dry. This postseason just gets easier and easier -- yeah, right.

Theres a lot more pressure on you, he admitted afterward, but you find your ways to think of little things, whatever it is to be able to think of it as another pitch or another starting day, just go out there and stay to your plan and stay to your strengths.

The Giants arent home and dry, of course, because Wednesday is another kettle of meat entirely. As Comrade Urban will tell you elsewhere on this, your favorite wed site, Joe Blanton is a more difficult equation than he seems on this stage, and Madison Bumgarner is still burdened not so much by youth but by small sample size.

But if this helps at all for Giant fans who dont want to miss a moments torture (you sick weasels), Matt Cain will be back in case theres a Game 7. Expressionless stares, reptile blood, all the pitches a fellow could need in all the places a fellow could need them.

Im a guy whos usually going to throw a lot of fastballs, he said, but I think the biggest thing today was really making sure the location was better than the previous times (he faced the Phillies, without success). I think the main goal today was to go out there and try to keep the ball closer to the knees and stay at the bottom of the strike zone.

And as an added bonus, to make it easier for Buster Posey. It isnt Job One, but it makes Job One a better days work.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.