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Matt Cain gets first win in over a year, Giants even series with Cubs

For only the third time in the last nine meetings, the Giants defeat the Cubs.

Cain face.
Cain face.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Is Matt Cain back? He had velocity, control of his pitches, and command of the strike zone.

Is Matt Cain back? He kept hitters off balance and got swinging strikes.

Is Matt Cain back? He induced plenty of weak contact with his breaking pitches and got a Cainesque number of popups and flyouts on the high fastball.

Is Matt Cain back? It had been 741 days since his last hit. He hit a 2-RBI double off of Jon Lester. Those RBIs represented his first since last August and his most in a season since 2013. The rest of the Giants' rotation can swing the bat a little bit. Now it's Cain's turn to get in on the action.

But is Matt Cain back? Tonight's game featured his third consecutive quality start, something he hadn't done since June 28-July 9 of 2014. He won his first game since July 22nd of last year.

Oh, you don't give a Richmond Flying Squirrel about pitcher wins? Suit yourself. But for a professional athlete, any measure of success is a welcome measure. Maybe Matt Cain developed a thick skin when it came to the no decision or the not-his-fault L from the early years of offensive decrepitude to the latter years of ulceriffic bullpenry, but after ending his 2014 with surgery and finding the path back to being a major league starter trickier and perhaps longer than he ever imagined, maybe the pitcher win is the symbolic win he'll need this year to confirm that he's back.

If you don't want to give him that off of three starts, just imagine if these had been his first three starts of the season. Of course you'd think he's back. Or, at least, you'd be a little bit beyond cautiously optimistic about his chances going forward. Pitching is a physical war and the human arm will go AWOL even when everything's going well. Matt Cain is recovering from a surgery that removed pain and discomfort from his arm, from his throwing motion, from his quality of life. He had learned to live with that pain and discomfort. He's been relearning how to pitch, basically. Regain lost muscle memory. Perhaps he took a little bit longer to get back to his MATT CAIN ways, but he's getting back to them with every start. He's making obvious progress. It's a relief. It's beautiful to watch.

So, is it really a question? Matt Cain is back.

* * *

Last night:


Bochy Cool

In a startling reversal of fortune, Bruce Bochy was the one who found himself hamstrung with two injured outfielders but running out on the mound a pitcher who's been dealing of late. Would this finally be a game where Bruce Bochy had the upper hand against Elder Baseball God Joe Maddon?

Bochy basically stole Maddon's bit by kookily inserting backup punching bag Kelby Tomlinson into the lineup as an outfielder and batting third ahead of Buster Posey. It's a move straight out of the Maddon playbook, which, of course, is a hand-stitched book that's mostly just short stories written by Maddon's barber but in the style of Thomas Pynchon.

Matt Cain is certainly no Jake Arrieta, but he's absolutely not Jake Peavy, and it's here where the Giants had a chance. Cain didn't put the Giants in an early hole, and Denard Span and the aforementioned Tomlinson dragged 19 pitches between them out of Jon Lester in the first inning alone. The hitters tried to drive up Arrieta's pitch count last night, too, but Arrieta's seasonal affective disorder-inducing arsenal of pitches outclassed that strategy. It was great to see it carry over to today, though, and it lead to the offense setting itself up in the third inning for the mistake streak in Lester's pitch count.

But before Buster Posey could hit his 2-run home run in the third inning, Bruce Bochy dialed his Inner Maddon to 11 (which actually looks like a pair of Jenga towers, because Joe's kooky like that) and had Kelby Tomlinson bunt Joe Panik to third after Panik's leadoff double. Why in the world would a major league manager do that in a major league game against another major league team?

From my view, the simplest answer is that Bochy had sorta figured this game might be a loss. Something like this:

No Pence, no Pagan, and even if Cain has looked positively Cain of late, who's to say if that's for real or if that's the result of facing teams that are not nearly as good as the Cubs? But without two key lineup cogs and a lefty on the mound, why not role the dice with the righty-lefty matchup odds? Kelby Tomlinson's had some nice at bats of late. Maybe something weird'll happen.

I mean, I suppose in Bochy speak, his thought process would've actually sounded like this:

Well, maybe Cainer'll do something good. Kelby's been lookin' good. Lester's tough. Maybe we can get the jump on 'im. Use Kelby to move Spanny and Panny 'round if they get on ahead of Bustery, let 'im drive 'em in with a single. {long sigh} I need a beer.

Bruce Bochy put all his chips on "Baseball". It was a bold bet that few other managers could think up, Joe Maddon being one of them. Not hard to imagine Bochy's ego coming into play when Joe Maddon descends from the heavens to manage against him at AT&T Park. Bochy's got the credentials and the respect within the industry, but Maddon's got the ratings, the budget, the cast, and a Q rating that gets pet projects funded with ease.

Well, maybe Bruce Bochy wants to do a cooking show or a fishing show when he retires and doesn't want to have to pitch his series idea against Joe Maddon's Clubhouse (a nightly talk show where Joe Maddon interviews his socks. With musical guest.), which will get a straight to series order while Bochy will have to shoot a proof of concept presentation like some pleb.

Go Bochy.

* * *

If you combine Santiago Casilla's 2015 against left-handers with his 2016 against left-handers you start to see Jake Peavy against all-handers. It's not time for a red alert in the closer role quite yet -- his track record is still too good to ignore and his stuff is still obvious with the naked eye -- but let's definitely go to yellow alert.

* * *

The Giants wore uniforms that suspiciously resembled their 2016 Spring Training gear. There aren't many good memories of 2016 Spring Training, especially for Matt Cain. One game does not a trend make, or even three starts, but if Buster Posey starts hitting and Matt Cain keeps dealing, then the only thing the Giants will need to worry about for the foreseeable future is that bullpen. And Sunday Night Baseball.