Cain will try to end history of Game 7 pain for Giants

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Cain will try to end history of Game 7 pain for Giants

SAN FRANCISCO The Giants have never won a Game 7 in their128 years of dancing on diamonds. Theyll hand a freshly rubbed baseball andall their hopes to Matt Cain as they seek to outreach the St. Louis Cardinalsfor the NL pennant on Monday.

Could there be a more perfect choice?

What a remarkable follow-up it would be: Barely four monthsafter throwing the first perfect game in franchise history, Cain could becomethe first Giant to punch them through a Game 7 glass ceiling that has createdso many bad memories over the years.
REWIND: Baggarly: Cain pitches MLB's 22nd Perfect Game

The Giants are 0-5 in their history in Game 7s. Theirshortcomings include a roaring red surge at Anaheim in the 2002 World Series,Bobby Richardson gloving Willie McCoveys line drive in the 1962 World Series and, most applicably given their current foe, Jose Oquendos three-run knockoutshot against Atlee Hammaker in the 1987 NLCS at old Busch Stadium.

(Doubtful anyone remembers that 4-3, 12-inning loss to theWashington Senators in Game 7 of the 1924 World Series, or that 3-2, 10-inningloss to the Boston Red Sox to decide it all in 1912. But they had to be cryingat Coogans Bluff back then.)

Cain, for all his postseason experience over the past threeyears, has never participated in a Game 7. The only current Giant who has isRyan Theriot, who was 0 for 5 amid the Cardinals World Series-clinchingvictory over Texas last year.

So this will be a new experience -- but perhaps not adaunting one for a team that already has won five elimination games thispostseason.

The Cardinals are tested, too, having won all six of theirelimination games over the past two postseasons. They stormed back from a 6-0deficit to win their NLDS Game 5 at Washington, too.
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So even if the Giants race out to an early lead againstright-hander Kyle Lohse and theyre confident they will, after letting himoff the hook in Game 3 -- dont expect them to feel comfortable at any point.

Cains job is simple: Keep the ball in the park. Hesallowed four home runs in his three postseason starts, accounting for six ofthe nine runs hes allowed overall. Matt Carpenters two-run shot made thedifference in Game 3 at Busch Stadium and Carpenter is likely to be in thelineup again, if Matt Hollidays lower back issue keeps him out of the lineup.
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Weather is likely to play a huge factor, too, as theforecast calls for intermittent showers and winds up to 20 mph. It might comedown to which team plays the cleanest afield.

Cain was if hed ever had to pitch in a winner-take-all gamebefore.

My senior clear of high school, to go to state (finals)against our rival school, Cain said. But that didn't work out so well forme.

Eleven days ago, when he prepared to pitch atCincinnati in the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS, Cain said he thought of that long-ago game for Houston Highin Germantown, Tenn.

I know it's a long time in between, he said. But I triedto use that, go out there and still have fun with it, enjoy it, not put toomuch on to it.

If the old high school frame of reference sounds familiar, it should. Madison Bumgarner caused all kinds of snickers two years ago when he compared Game 4 of the World Series to his North Carolina highschool district championship game.

"I don't remember if I was one of those guys who madesome fun about it," said Cain, smiling. "I probably did. But that's in a way, that's alot of times what this game is. You almost have to revert back when youwere in Little League because the game is about having fun. And sometimeswhen you put too much on to it, it kind of ruins the moment for you and youdon't end up playing as well as you'd like to if you put too much pressure onyourself.

The Giants have avoided being blinded by that pressure sofar, but Game 7 tends to focus light like a magnifying glass. Even underdarkening, stormy skies.

We all know what situation we're in, Cain said. So it'snot really something that has to be said. But I think it really gets theguys together and gets them thinking, Let's go out there and leave it outthere.Whatever happens, happens."

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

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Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

CHICAGO — The Giants gave Mark Melancon $62 million to make sure they don’t have an NLDS repeat, and the closer did shut the Cubs down in the ninth Monday. There’s a far cheaper solution to those big problems, however: Score so much that a late-inning implosion doesn’t matter. 

The Giants gave up four in the eighth inning in their first meeting with the Cubs since that infamous Game 4 meltdown, but thanks in large part to Joe Panik, the cushion was large enough. Panik, back atop the leadoff spot with Denard Span aching, reached base four times and had three extra-base hits. He came into the game with a .172 average over his previous 14 games, but he took John Lackey deep to lead off the night. 

“The last couple of days in St. Louis I started feeling better,” Panik said. “I started feeling a little better and today it clicked. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I felt good. The swing path felt good. It’s going back to staying on the ball and not trying to do too much.”

With the wind rushing out toward the bleachers, there was no need to try and muscle the ball. The Giants hit a season-high three homers and added four doubles. Brandon Belt and Justin Ruggiano also went deep as the lead was stretched to 6-0. After Ruggiano’s blast, a familiar feeling set in.

Ty Blach had been brilliant through seven, but Javier Baez took him deep in the eighth. Derek Law entered and gave up a two-run shot to Ben Zobrist. Just as in Game 4, Bochy started wearing out the track to the mound. Steven Okert faced one batter and plunked him as Hunter Strickland and Melancon started to heat up. Strickland got the call, and after falling behind in the count, he got Willson Contreras to ground into a double play, stranding a pair. 

“No lead is safe on a night like this,” Bochy said of the wind. “It’s not surprising when the other team answers.”

It probably wasn’t surprising to the players on the field. It did, however, bring back bad memories.

“You’re human,” Panik said. “You’re human, but with the bullpen we’ve got, we have confidence that they’ll shut it down.”

As the Cubs rallied in the eighth and again the ninth, a half-dozen key plays from earlier loomed larger. Panik was sent from second by Phil Nevin on a hard single to left and he cut the corner at third perfectly, scoring the second run of the night. Blach helped kill one potential Cubs rally by cutting behind Albert Almora in the sixth. The center fielder had dropped a one-out bloop into right and he made a hard turn. Blach followed him to first, fielded a throw from Ruggiano, and threw Almora out at second, eliminating a baserunner ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

“We work on that all the time,” said Blach, a former minor league Gold Glove winner. “I saw him rounding pretty hard so I tried to sneak in. We were able to catch a guy sleeping.”

Blach was being modest. It is not a play most pitchers make, not in a 5-0 game. It was simply one of many defensive highlights for the Giants, who did just about everything right until the eighth. When the bullpen started to wobble, the lead was large enough that it didn’t matter. 

The win was the eighth in 10 games for a team that’s threatening to get back into the postseason chase. For all that’s gone wrong, the Giants are just 3 1/2 games behind these Cubs. They’ll try to get another one back Tuesday in a reminder of what could have been: Johnny Cueto against Jon Lester.

Earlier this season, Panik would have hit seventh or eighth against Lester, but Bochy said he’ll get another night atop the lineup. The manager said Panik earned it with his first career night with three extra base hits. After the first leadoff homer of his career — and probably life — Panik doubled twice. That helped build the lead, but it led to some ribbing hours later. As Panik addressed reporters, Matt Cain snuck up behind the scrum.

“Ask him why he didn’t try for third on his second double,” Cain whispered.