Cain's one-hitter a welcome relief amid Bonds' chase

Updated: May 21, 2006, 8:42 PM ET
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The drenched sellout crowd and panting media horde awaiting Barry Bonds' 715th homer saw something else instead: A remarkable performance by a teammate young enough to be Bonds' son.

Starting Pitcher
San Francisco Giants

9 2 5 18 34 5.47

Matt Cain, the Giants' 21-year-old right-hander, threw a one-hitter in San Francisco's 6-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. The rookie became the fourth-youngest Giants pitcher to throw a shutout, the first of his career, in a masterful 120-pitch performance.

In his first start after a brief demotion to the bullpen to work on his stuff and his mental game, Cain (2-5) had everything working against the A's. He allowed a third-inning double to Jay Payton, but otherwise couldn't be touched in what Cain called the best start of his life.

"I really didn't want to go 1-6, and I really wanted us to take the series," said Cain, who lowered his ERA from 6.69 to 5.47. "It's fun to have all these guys around here wondering what Barry is going to do, but I've still got to do my job."

Cain, a first-round pick in 2002, piqued San Francisco fans' interest with seven mostly impressive starts late last season, and he earned a spot in the Giants' Opening Day rotation. But he won just once in his first eight starts this season, struggling with inconsistent pitches while failing to finish off batters.

So the Giants skipped Cain when his previous turn in the rotation came up, sending him back for two bullpen sessions to work on his command and approach. Cain pitched two scoreless relief innings in a blowout win over the Houston Astros last Tuesday.

"The days off seemed like forever, but it was good for me because it got me to sit back and really evaluate hitters and what they do," Cain said. "I mostly worked on my strike zone, finding it and hitting it. It feels great to step back and then come back in that strong."

Cain didn't allow himself to consider the consequences of another bad start in Oakland -- and after all that extra rest, he was able to throw 120 pitches without any strain.

He faced real trouble only in the third, when Payton's double was followed by two-out walks to Jason Kendall and Nick Swisher, loading the bases. Ray Durham saved a run moments earlier by tracking down Dan Johnson's hard grounder toward right field.

But Cain got Mark Kotsay to ground out, ending the threat.

"I'm proud of him," catcher Mike Matheny said. "It's hard for a young guy who hasn't been in that situation a lot to keep his composure, but he did it and didn't make a lot of mistakes."

Cain retired 11 straight batters after the trouble until Adam Melhuse drew a walk in the seventh. But Cain got the final eight batters in the Giants' first one-hitter since June 20, 2004, celebrating mildly after Eric Chavez's game-ending grounder to Durham.

"We want to enjoy it. We want to razz him," teammate Mark Sweeney said. "He was swarmed, and it was well-deserved. All of us in here have a lot of confidence in him."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press