The Giants' 3-1 win Friday night over the Colorado Rockies was unremarkable in the sense that they didn't pull the win out with late-inning theatrics or put the fans through a topsy-turvy emotional roller coaster that they've become accustomed to. But, it was impressive and important in the following ways:
--It kept the momentum and good feelings of their just-concluded road trip going, and started off a 10-game home stand with a statement against the team they thought would be their main competition in the N.L. West.
The Rockies have now lost 22 of their last 31 games after starting out so hot (remember, they had a 17-8 mark, giving the impression that they would be the team for the Giants two watch out for). They're now 26-30, 5 1/2 games behind the Giants (32-25) and in jeopardy of sinking in the quicksand of desultory play.
The Giants, who were once 4 1/2 games behind the Rockies, have now won five of nine games since Buster Posey's season-ending injury, and with a win Saturday would be a season-high eight games over .500.
--Matt Cain returned to form after a few off performances, buckling down in tight spots to re-claim his stature as one of the toughest pitchers with runners in scoring position.
An interesting stat: Cain had a season-high four walks, which Giants' brass was probably happy with in a counterintuitive way. One criticism of Cain over the last few games is that in avoiding walks he was in the strike zone too much, too comfortable an at bat for hitters. He'd lost some fastball command and given up way too many two-strike hits. He needed to be more effectively wild -- with some aggressiveness inside -- to disrupt hitters' timing.
Over his previous three starts, Cain had given up 12 earned runs in 19 innings, a 5.68 ERA. On Friday, he was aggressive, was much more in command, and bore down when the Giants needed him to.
He left runners stranded in scoring positions in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings.
Perhaps the moment that Cain showed he would dig deep was in the fourth, after walking Carlos Gonzalez and giving up a double to Troy Tulowitski to start the inning in a scoreless tie. He conceded a run on a ground out to Helton and then stranded Tulowitzki on third (and Chris Iannetta on first after a walk) by striking out Ty Wigginton on a beautiful full-count changeup and Donnie Fowler on a rising fastball.
In the fifth, he left the Rockies stranded on three bases when he snared a hard hit comebacker by Todd Helton for the final out.
It was the epitome of a gutsy performance, pure Cainsian. As a sign in the stands said, No Cain, No Gain.
-- The win shifted the spotlight to another offensive star: a night after Aubrey Huff hit three home runs, he went 0-for-4, but he was picked up by Cody Ross, who had a pair of doubles, including the two-run drive into the left center field gap to key a three-run fourth-inning rally and give the Giants all they needed for the win.
Ross, actually, has been hot for a few games. He's 9 for his last 16, raising his batting average from .235 to .276. His swing looks pure, lashing through the strike zone with such electricity that it's a wonder that he gets into prolonged slumps that we've seen.
-- The kids are performing. Manny Burriss went 3-for-4, including a line drive single up the middle and a perfectly placed bunt down the third base line, probably earning another start at third base while the Giants figure out what to do with Miguel Tejada.
Brandon Crawford had a key add-on RBI double. After Ross' two-run double, Crawford followed with a double right off the base of the right field foul pole to drive in Ross -- with two outs. It was a key hit that gave Cain and the bullpen just enough breathing room. He was also intentionally walked, a sign of respect that's come early for the rookie.
Crawford, a Bay Area product whose family was in the stands for his AT&T debut (and whose mother grabbed a foul ball as it bounced fortuitously to the happy family's seats), wears No. 35. Name the other Giants rookie shortstop from the Bay Area who wore No. 35. Answer at the bottom.
-- The Giants' three-run rally came after Burriss was picked off first base, just another sign that the Giants are shedding their snake-bitten skin that had poisoned them for so long. Freddy Sanchez got the rally going with a blooper to right field, and after Huff flied out for the second out, the Giants strung together three straight two-out hits: a line drive single up the middle by Nate Schierholtz, Ross' booming two-run double and Crawford's RBI double.
Sanchez is in an extended groove: He's raised his batting average from .257 to .296 over the last 18 games. He's had hits in 16 of those games, going 28-for-77 in that span for a .363 batting average. Overlooked by Huff's three home runs in the Giants' 12-7 win Thursday was Sanchez' three-run home run that might have been the most critical hit of the game. It broke the game open, expanding the lead to 9-3 an inning after the Cardinals had threatened to get right back in the game, and it was impressive: it came on a 96 MPH fastball in on his hands. He cleared his hips and whipped his bat around with such ease that it'll be interesting to see if the Cardinals try to jam him again.
Alameda's Chris Speier broke onto the scene in 1971 as a 21-year old rookie Giants shortstop, helping solidify the middle infield with his dazzling and energetic style. He hit .235 with 8 HR and 46 RBI in 157 games as the Giants won the N.L. West. He went 5-for-14 with one HR in the playoffs against the Pirates.