SAN FRANCISCO -– Could there be a more appropriate place for Hunter Pence to hit a home run than the center field kale garden at AT&T Park?
Could there have been a better place and time for the Giants, at long last, to piece together nine solid innings than Wednesday night against their Bay Area rivals?
From Pence’s home run to solid baserunning, to Matt Cain’s six solid innings, to spotless work from a bullpen that has failed the county health inspection in recent weeks, the Giants did what was required to beat baseball’s winningest team.
They played well from start to finish in a 5-2 victory and moved back into first place in the NL West, percentage points ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Cain won for just the second time in 15 starts.
Starting pitching report
Cain entered with one victory in his 14 starts, and in many of those, he deserved to lose.
But not the previous two. The Giants were shut out 2-0 in Cain’s last outing at San Diego, and prior to that, the bullpen blew a decision after he threw seven shutout innings against the Reds.
Cain (2-7) was on point again, and for just the fourth time in his 15 starts, the Giants supported him with more than two runs.
He held the A’s to two runs on five hits in six innings, and he might have blanked them entirely if he had figured out a way to retire Stephen Vogt. The platoon first baseman has crushed right-handers all season and he led off the fourth inning with a solo home run.
Vogt walked to start the sixth inning, when the A’s plated their other run against Cain on Jed Lowrie’s two-out single. Cain was able to get Derek Norris to ground into a fielder’s choice to strand two runners.
The real flashpoint for Cain came in the fifth inning, when Lowrie hit a leadoff single and Cain knocked down Alberto Callaspo’s line drive up the middle. Cain whirled and yanked his throw past second base for an error, then a sacrifice put two runners in scoring position. But Cain, switching back to the windup, picked himself up by getting Coco Crisp to ground out.
With a sacrifice situation in the bottom of the sixth, Cain remained in the game but fouled out.
Jeremy Affeldt worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning to hold an opponent scoreless for the 32nd time in 36 appearances this season.
Sergio Romo followed with one of his most impressive outings in weeks. He wasn’t nearly as predictable with his slider and the ones he threw had their familiar snap as he struck out Craig Gentry and Yoenis Cespedes before Brandon Moss lined out.
Santiago Casilla took over in the ninth and needed just eight pitches to record three outs for his fourth save.
At the plate
The Giants took advantage of Jason Hammel’s wildness while working deep counts and churning plenty of baserunners. While they missed landing any knockout punches, they did manage to put the ball in play with more consistency and took advantage of some bleeders and miscues as a result -– the very thing that escaped them in those two losses at the Coliseum.
Gregor Blanco raced home with the game’s first run in the second inning when he drew a walk, took off with the 2-1 pitch to Joe Panik and then kept running when left fielder Yoenis Cespedes bobbled Panik’s line single for an error.
The Giants made Hammel throw 37 pitches in the third inning but minimized the chance by netting just one run.
Brandon Belt drew a one-out walk and Pablo Sandoval singled on a two-strike breaking ball he practically scooped out of the dirt Belt did well to hold initially and then get from first to third on Sandoval’s blooper, putting him in position to score easily on Buster Posey’s line single through the left side. Michael Morse walked to load the bases with one out, but the Giants couldn’t add on. Blanco and Panik fouled back three fastballs while ahead in the count before striking out and grounding out, respectively.
Pence made it 3-1 with his paleo blast in the fourth and the Giants tacked on two more to make it 5-2 in the sixth. Panik singled, Crawford bunt-blooped a single to the right side, Pence found a seam with an RBI single up the middle and a wild pitch scored Crawford with the second run of the inning.
Cain’s error notwithstanding, the Giants did not give away any extra outs. Posey threw out Crisp trying to steal in the third inning; he has thrown out 12 runners in 37 attempts (32.4 percent) this season.
The Giants announced 41,427 paid. Pass the cruciferous vegetables.
The Giants and A’s complete their four-game home-and-home Bay Bridge series Thursday at AT&T Park. Tim Hudson (7-5, 2.53 ERA) is scheduled to oppose A’s left-hander Scott Kazmir (10-3, 2.53). First pitch is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. PDT.