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Matt Cain bludgeoned again, Giants lose

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The Giants slipped back in the NL West, losing big to the Cubs again.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On a summer night, in the middle of a pennant race, with the loathsome Dodgers already victorious, the Giants looked completely incapable of ever winning another baseball game. The other team hit baseballs high and far, consistently and repeatedly. The Giants didn't get a hit through three innings. When the other team scored a run, it came with an ex-baseball catching fire over the horizon. When the Giants scored a run, it came on an error and a groundout, and they were happy to have it. The highlight of the night was Brandon Crawford working a 12-pitch strikeout. After swinging through the final pitch, he chucked his bat and helmet, vintage Rich Aurilia-style, frustrated, hurt, and alone, just like everyone else watching.

At least, that was the lede before the Giants scored five runs and made the Cubs use their closer. But it's not like I'm changing it for that game.

The spirited comeback was nice, but the story of the game was Matt Cain looking awful again, just completely untenable as a starting pitcher for a team with postseason hopes. He worked quickly in the first, with excellent behind him. His fastball was moving, the Cubs were confused by the offspeed stuff, and after the strong finish from Cain in his game last week, I allowed myself to feel a little optimism. Yes, this was all going to work out. The book about the next two months was going to have two chapters devoted to Matt Cain, and none of us were going to be worthy enough to read it.

Then came Kyle Schwarber. Again. He is on a Bagwellian pace when it comes to future and eternal Giants nemeses. Buster Posey wanted the ball here:

schwarber

The ball went here:

cain

The ball should not have gone there.

More than the distance, though, was the sound. It was a violent, ugly sound, just a complete rejection of the pitch and everything that Cain ever stood for. It was the sound that could only be made by an inordinately strong rookie who was too inexperienced to know that baseballs can't be hit that hard.

In the next inning, Posey wanted the ball here:

montero

The ball went here:

cain

The ball should not have gone there.

And there was that sound again, that sound of a wooden man getting sucked into an industrial turbine, with the appropriately helpless gasps in the back. Miguel Montero was sitting offspeed, just like Schwarber. Neither of them respected Cain's fastball or ability to put it where he wanted. On another night, that cocksureness will cost them. Maybe. Hopefully. On this night, they hit the ball as hard and as loud as I can remember this year. Cain allowed his 10th and 11th homers of the season, in 52⅔ innings. He allowed nine in 221⅔ innings back in 2011.

Back in 2008, though, Cain went through a similar stretch to this. In his first 11 games, he allowed 11 homers and 33 runs in 67 innings. His walks were way up. His strikeouts were way down. At the end of June, his ERA was 4.44, and it had basically been around that mark for four starts. And then he came back and finished the season strong. And pitched brilliantly the next year. And the next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. He crawled out of the early season muck to reclaim his career.

If this were May, in other words, maybe we could fall back on it's-still-early patter to make us feel better.

It's not May, though, and Cain isn't a 23-year-old learning how to pitch. He's 30, with barnacles in his elbow, and it's been three years since he was consistently excellent. This doesn't have an it's-still-early feel. This has some finality behind it, like we're watching Vladimir Guerrero play right field in the 2010 World Series.

The Giants came back a little and forced the Cubs' closer to throw 20 pitches, which isn't a small accomplishment. If it had been just a poor start for Cain, just a little mistake here or there, this would have been one of the best comebacks of the season. Instead, it was a disaster start, and the Giants made it interesting only in a token way.

For this year? He's probably done, with Chris Heston coming back and Ryan Vogelsong being iffy instead of horrific. For next year? There have been weirder comeback stories. Cain returning to form wouldn't even make the Letters to the Editor section of Weird Baseball Quarterly. There two odder origin stories in this very paragraph.

It's hard to watch Cain like this, though. The keep-fan-favorites philosophy is the best when it works. The downside is something like this, where you have to watch the slow demolition of a player who used to be so very good. Hopefully the even year will be more gentle ...

★★★

... because we know the odd year is a total ass.