Bullpen bails out Cain, sets tone for road trip

Bullpen bails out Cain, sets tone for road trip
July 16, 2012, 12:54 am
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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants had lost three consecutive Matt Cain starts going into Sunday's game against the Houston Astros, shocking considering they won his previous nine. Two of those three losses came in the ninth inning, after Cain left in line for the win.

Was the Giants' starter nervous when he was pulled in the seventh inning with one out and runners at the corners?

"No, not at all," Cain said. "I'm not nervous when those guys come in at all. Those guys are going to pick us up most of the time, and they've done a great job of that all year with everybody."

Some would argue otherwise, as Santiago Casilla's last seven outing have yielded three saves and four blown.

"It seems like when stuff goes wrong it's when (Cain is) pitching," Jeremy Affeldt said. "So hopefully that will change in the second half.

"I felt like we went out there and did our job today."

He -- and the rest of the four-armed monster of Casilla, Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo -- certainly did, successfully protecting Cain's one-run lead in the 3-2 series-sweeping win over Houston.

And it wasn't easy. They picked up for Cain in a precarious situation in the seventh inning.

"That was big," Cain said. "For those guys to be able to shut that inning down. Affeldt picked me up bigtime. First and third right there with one out. That was real big to keep the momentum on our side."

The fact that Affeldt recorded the two required outs for the hold on just two pitches gave the recently-wavering bullpen a required shot of confidence.

Astros manager Brad Mills pushed all his chips in during the seventh-inning rally that chased Cain.

Affeldt first faced pinch-hitter Brian Bixler, and dispatched him with one pitch, a 90-mph sinker that was caught in foul ground by Buster Posey. Then, Mills called on Saturday's star for the Astros, Justin Maxwell, to hit in place of starting pitcher Bud Norris. Maxwell's RBI double off Casilla Saturday helped force extras, but he didn't last more than a pitch against Affeldt Sunday, either.

Affeldt said his 91-mph four-seam fastball to Maxwell was supposed to be inside, but he felt it trail out over the plate right out of his hand, and felt fear when Maxwell sent it to right field. He credited AT&T Park for keeping that one on Nate Schierholtz's radar.

The most nerve-wracking of Astros rallies quashed, Affeldt, Romo, Lopez and Casilla combined for uncharacteristically stress-free eighth and ninth innings. The only Astro to reach base was Scott Moore, who Affeldt hit before giving way to Romo.

What makes the four-pronged attack so effective?

"Different angles, different pitching styles," Affeldt said of his group of potential closers.

With the most dominant -- and unique -- duo of left- and right-handed specialists in Lopez and Romo, a veteran lefty with heat and hook from the left in Affeldt, and one of the most electric "stuff guys" in the game in Casilla, he's right.

Despite Bochy acknowledging that he will continue to mix things up late in games, and the less-than-enthusiastic response Casilla's ninth-inning entrance drew from the AT&T Park crowd, the team was unwavering in their trust.

"Casilla's been so good for us all year," Buster Posey said. "We've got the most confidence in him."

Casilla rewarded that confidence by striking out Chris Johnson and coaxing a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez to end the game, secure the sweep and record his 23rd save of the season -- good for third in the N.L.

"He's had some pretty big shoes to fill," Affeldt said. "He's gone above and beyond. He's got a power arm and two good breaking balls."

And, maybe most importantly, a team of support. Affeldt was eager to explain how much the relievers help each other, not only as cheerleaders, but also as coaches, frequently pointing out aspects of each other's motions that could be improved.

While there may be some that shudder at the concept of deploying the closer by committee tactic, others -- like Matt Cain -- will not, as long as "those guys" get the job done.

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