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SF@ARI: Sandoval launches a three-run homer

PHOENIX -- For much of his career, Matt Cain hasn't been accustomed to the Giants giving him many runs. So he must have been in seventh heaven Friday night when Pablo Sandoval staked him to a lead with a three-run homer in the first inning.

"That definitely felt good," Cain said after earning his second win of the season in a 5-2 Giants victory over the D-backs at Chase Field. "You definitely want to go out there and give them a shutdown inning and keep the momentum on our side."

Cain gave the Giants six shutdown innings, leaving with runners on first and second and none out in the seventh. In the end, he allowed only four hits and a single run, continuing a hot streak that began last postseason as the Giants won the World Series for the first time since 1954.

The victory was the third in a row for the Giants and sixth in their last eight games after opening 1-4, keeping them four games behind the rampaging 11-2 first-place Rockies in the National League West.

With Tim Lincecum and his two NL Cy Young Awards to his credit, Cain may not even be the best pitcher on his own team. But at 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA, he may be among the top pitchers in the Major Leagues.

"He's up there at the top," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I don't know what number I'd put him at, but he's one of the best pitchers in the game. That's how I feel about him. You look at his ability. He's one of the elite guys in the game."

Cain walked two, whiffed three, hit a batter and threw 102 pitches. The D-backs had only three runners as far as second base through the first six innings, but Cain was pulled after allowing Stephen Drew's bloop double and hitting Melvin Mora to open the seventh. Drew scored the D-backs' first run on Willie Bloomquist's sacrifice fly later in the inning.

Cain is 7-4 lifetime and 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA against Arizona in his last four starts, dating back to the beginning of the 2010 season.

"[Cain] throws at least three pitches, throws them in any count," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He'll throw any pitch at any time; he's very unpredictable. He knows he can pitch, he knows he's good and he comes right after you. He has good stuff. We're not the only guys he beats up on, I'll tell you that right now."

Just ask the Braves, Phillies and Rangers -- the three teams the Giants defeated in the playoffs last year to win it all. Cain went 21 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run, the sixth-longest such streak in Major League history. He was 2-0 with a gaudy 0.00 ERA in his three starts, one against each team.

Talk about holdovers: In his three starts this season, he's allowed three earned runs and nine hits over the course of 19 innings. Success breeds success, as the old saying goes.

"I feel that way," Cain said. "I definitely go back to some of that stuff in the postseason where I mentally was and try to use that to my advantage."

That's why when the resurgent Sandoval launched his third homer of the season -- a three-run shot -- into the right-center-field pool area off starter and loser Daniel Hudson, Cain wasn't about to let the D-backs off the hook. After a down year and an offseason of weight loss and working himself back into shape, Sandoval is humming along at a .356 clip with nine RBIs.

He's the best thing to happen to the Giants' offense since Cody Ross was plucked from the Marlins off waivers this past August.

"I just tried to relax at home plate and get a good pitch to hit," Sandoval said. "Matt is one of those guys who has been throwing the ball well. He's been working hard. When he's pitching and you give him a lead like that in the early innings, you know things are going to work out well for us."

They couldn't have worked any better Friday night. Sandoval provided the runs and the power; Cain kept the D-backs completely off balance.

That doesn't mean any of it is going to go to Cain's head. The 26-year-old right-hander downplayed his manager's comments. An elite pitcher?

"No, I don't even think about things like that," he said. "I just try to get guys out."

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