Cain nearly perfect in beating Pirates By Chris Haft / | 4/13/2012 9:48 PM

PIT@SF: Cain pitches a one-hitter vs. Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The sense of inevitability surrounding Matt Cain continued to grow Friday.

Since he fired a two-hitter against the Chicago Cubs in his third Major League start in 2005, Cain has convinced legions of followers that he'll throw a no-hitter someday. The right-hander crept even closer to achieving that distinction against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who mustered one hit -- opposing pitcher James McDonald's sixth-inning single -- in the Giants' 5-0 victory that lengthened their winning streak in home openers to four games.
Receiving their first regular-season look at the Giants since last September, the AT&T Park crowd derived plenty of reassurance. They saw Buster Posey, surgically repaired leg and all, catch nine innings and lash a double to ignite a two-run first inning. They learned that Melky Cabrera, the club's leading offseason acquisition, could be an asset as he collected two hits, scored twice and hiked his batting average to .414. They saw Aubrey Huff, perhaps San Francisco's biggest disappointment in 2011, line a two-run, eighth-inning homer to complete a three-RBI afternoon and cement the outcome.
But Cain's performance eclipsed all of this. He didn't add to his list of five starts in which he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, but he did record his third career one-hitter.
Asked if he realized that he was approaching the elusive milestone, Cain said, "I'm always kind of conscious of it. It's something I've definitely always wanted to do through high school or Little League."
Cain would have claimed a greater prize -- a perfect game -- had he avoided his lone lapse. McDonald, however, ruined everything by grounding a 2-1 pitch cleanly into left field after Cain retired the first 17 Pirates he faced.
Cain recounted the sixth-inning confrontation with McDonald: "I'm throwing something to the outer third of the plate, and he put a good swing on it."
In short, Cain didn't complain about becoming the seventh pitcher who would have spun a perfect game only to have his effort besmirched by the other pitcher. That factoid came courtesy of Trent McCotter, vice chairman of the Society of American Baseball Research's records committee. McCotter also unearthed two games in which a pitcher collected the only hit in what would have been a no-hitter.
None of this bothered Cain. However, McDonald admitted that if he had been in Cain's spikes, he'd be gnashing his molars.
"Man ... the pitcher standing in the way of a perfect game. That kind of stinks," McDonald said. "But it happened."
Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen nearly ended the no-hit drama with two outs in the fourth inning, when his check-swing grounder eluded Cain. But shortstop Brandon Crawford swooped in, barehanded the ball and flung an off-balance but perfect throw to first for the out.
Not much else happened in Cain's fifth career shutout. He struck out 11, reaching double figures in that category for the eighth time in his career and falling one short of his career high.
"We've all seen him locked in like this," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Cain obviously learned from the times when he wasn't so focused. When he started the 2008 home opener, for example, he allowed five runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.
"I knew that I got out of my rhythm," he said.
More recently, Cain squandered most of a 6-0 lead last Sunday at Arizona, surrendering five runs in six innings. "Frustrating" was how Cain described that experience.
It was a frustration-free day for the Giants, whose pitchers have spun two complete-game shutouts in seven contests. They complemented Cain's effort by again exceeding four runs, which they have done in each game.
"I think guys are going up there swinging with confidence," Posey said.
Receiving a warm ovation upon making his first plate appearance, Posey rewarded the fans with his run-scoring hit off the left-center-field wall. His two-out drive scored Cabrera, who has hit safely in every game. Huff's subsequent single scored Posey.
The Giants added a run in the sixth. Pablo Sandoval lined a one-out double off the right-field wall and scored on Nate Schierholtz's bloop single. Huff's homer doomed the Pirates to their fourth loss in a row. Later, he addressed the apparent rejuvenation of San Francisco's offense, whose average of 5.4 runs per game leads the National League.
"We've got a bunch of young guys, a lot of energy and a lot of speed," Huff said. "It's a different kind of baseball, no doubt."