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Matt Cain's arm and the big picture

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Just over a year ago, I tried to explain why the mood and tenor of the site was set to "cynical and bitter" by default. There are a lot of words in that post. Don’t bother. I’ll save you the time and recap it: pitching good, hitting bad. Or, specifically, the pitching was good enough to win a championship, but the hitting wasn’t especially close. The 2009 Giants featured Bengie Molina as their cleanup hitter. The 2010 Giants were bringing Bengie Molina back. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was definitely a time of pestilence and plague. There was rage. There was panic.

It’s tough to explain now. The Giants won it all. It’s hard to go back and rediscover that sense of urgency. What were we all worried about? The trick is to start the season with a garbage offense, and then a) hope that a journeyman minor league free agent turns into vintage Carlos Beltran, b) count on a rookie catcher to come up and propel the offense for a month, and c) scour the waiver wire in case there are teams in Florida giving away productive outfielders. It turns out we were just being paranoid.

But when you hear this

(Cain) has not thrown a baseball since he came down with elbow inflammation on Sunday, making it seem unlikely he will miss only one turn in the rotation. At the same time, he seems totally unconcerned about what he confessed is the first elbow issue of his career.

… you remember why there was urgency in the first place. The Giants were built around young pitching. Young pitching is beautiful, like, oh, a shiny idol made of solid gold. But while you stand there, mouth agape, marveling at the golden treasure, you hear the boulder. The boulder isn’t evil. It’s just obeying the laws of physics. And it’s going to crush you. It’s going to crush you real dead-like.

It doesn’t stop there, though, because there’s always young pitching. There are always young, live arms to get your hopes up. And it almost always ends the same way. It’s like "Sisyphus and the Raiders of the Lost Ark." Over and over and over again, young pitching crushes you. The Giants had a window of stellar young pitching, and it was almost certainly closing. If the Giants allowed 3.78 runs per game, the offense would score 3.77. That was how the team was constructed.

The offense was patched just in time – picture Sabean reaching out to grab Cody Ross just before the stone door slammed shut on his arm – and the Giants won the World Series1. They did it. And when I hear that Matt Cain’s elbow is barking, it makes me appreciate just how danged fortunate the Giants and their fans all were. The Giants made it through an entire season with four young starting pitchers, and there weren’t any injury concerns. They didn’t have to recall Todd Wellemeyer. They didn’t have to shoehorn in Henry Sosa for a start or two. The young pitchers were good, and they were healthy.

Cain doesn’t seem worried about his arm. Pitchers have elbow tenderness all the time. It doesn’t appear to be panic time yet. And I’m not trying to suggest that if it turns out to be a serious injury, we should just be happy that we have last year. No, no. I’m just using this news to marvel that the Giants were actually able to take advantage of their young pitching. They actually did it. After years and years of hearing "There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect," the Giants said, "Really? Here’s four. And they’re all awesome. And, say, that’s a shiny trophy. Mind if we hold on to that for forever?"

When I think of how fortunate the Giants were last year, I’m not thinking about Brooks Conrad; I’m thinking about Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner all surviving through 177 games intact. And maybe Brooks Conrad. But mostly the young pitching. It was special. Never take it for granted.

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