Originally posted on Croix De Candlestick  |  Last updated 4/19/12

That was one of the most impressive pitching duels I’ve ever witnessed.  It was billed as such in all the pregame chatter, but this one exceeded everyone’s expectations and then some.  Matt Cain, he of the perpetual no decision, went nine innings without surrendering a run and could have pitched the tenth had he been called upon.  Cliff Lee, who’s dominated the Giants in his career in the regular season, matched Cain pitch for pitch in becoming one of three pitchers in the last decade to throw more than nine innings.

Matt Cain, American Hero. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

A lot of things had to happen to lead us down this path of pitching dominance and complete offensive futility.  First, the Phillies are without their middle of the order, with both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the disabled list.  This leaves Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Hunter Pence, and nobody else left to pick up the slack.  On the Giants side, the story of our hitters tonight was that of the double play, as they managed to ground into four, all against Lee.

I harp on the Giants’ offense pretty frequently, and with good reason.  Their philosophy seems to be “Go up to the plate, swing at everything, and hope something good happens.”  Combine this unstructured approach with a pitcher like Lee who thrives off of throwing strikes and you have a recipe for a shutout.  Then you have a Phillies lineup missing two of their best hitters and you have a recipe for a good old-fashioned pitching duel.  Usually I like to start my game recaps a little before the game ends assuming there’s an assured outcome, but tonight allowed me no such luxury (uh oh, have I just given away a mega secret of beat writers and bloggers everywhere?).

Let’s talk Matt Cain briefly.  When he beat the Pirates in his last start, it was easy to dismiss that as a result of facing a team with at least four hitters under the Mendoza line who looked like they’d never held a bat before.  To have tonight be his encore performance though, that shows us that Cain may be ready to enter the class of elite pitchers occupied by the likes of Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum (the good version), and Lee.  Now of course these were just two starts, but 18 scoreless innings isn’t anything to sneeze at, even in the universe of small sample sizes.

In an extra inning game that came in well under three hours, it’s easy to have blinked and totally missed this one.  Both teams were guilty of being overly aggressive early in the count, but given that Lee and Cain were throwing strikes it’s not as though opposing hitters had much of a choice.  Oh and let’s not forget, Cain is going to be a Giant for a very long time now that he’s signed his fancy new extension.  I’ll admit, thinking of a rotation with Lincecum, Cain, and Madison Bumgarner fully realizing their potential (because let’s face it, MadBum has yet to hit his ceiling) makes me giggle.  And I don’t giggle for just anything, let me tell you.

Even though it went by insanely fast, this isn’t a game anyone will soon forget.  It’s not every day you see two pitchers matching each other the way Lee and Cain did tonight, and it was all made worth it by Melky Cabrera’s game-winning single in the 11th bringing in none other than Brandon Belt.  Belt had reached base after singling up the middle against one of the toughest lefty relievers in the game with a swear word for a last name in Bastardo, so kudos all around tonight for a few players that aren’t named Matt Cain.  Also that fills my quota of Belt mentions for this post.  More importantly though, Matt Cain is better than you.  He’s better than me.  Really, he’s better than all of us and I’m totally fine with that.

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