SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Cain enjoyed Wednesday more than any other Giant, with the possible exception of Brandon Crawford.
Cain was at his dominant best, striking out 11 and allowing five hits in his 13th career complete game as the Giants subdued the Washington Nationals, 3-1. But while Cain gained statistical luster, Crawford picked up something more essential: Job security.
Asked whether Crawford would remain at shortstop when Pablo Sandoval returns to third base as expected next week, manager Bruce Bochy said, "I'll say he'll be out there quite a bit."
Bochy wouldn't thoroughly commit to starting Crawford, the 24-year-old rookie, over Miguel Tejada, the 37-year-old veteran who'll be displaced from third base when Sandoval leaves the disabled list. Comparing the situation to the decision he'll face when left-hander Barry Zito is activated and must be shoehorned into a pitching staff that needs no apparent changes, Bochy summarized, "We'll cross that bridge. But you have to like the job that Brandon's done."
Crawford did his job superbly in the series finale against the Nationals, tripling to drive in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning. He also temporarily saved a run in the top of the inning. Thrilling the sellout crowd of 41,738, Crawford lunged to his left to spear Wilson Ramos' grounder up the middle, straightened and threw to first base for the out. Washington's Mike Morse, who was on second base, had to halt at third.
"I just wanted to knock it down and make sure that he didn't score," Crawford said.
Crawford, who joined the team on May 26 when infielder Mike Fontenot went on the disabled list with a strained left groin, plays with flash and dash that recent Giants shortstops have lacked. Veteran Omar Vizquel often flashed Hall of Fame-level form, but his range and arm strength were clearly diminished. Edgar Renteria, hero of the 2010 World Series, was less adept. Juan Uribe proved capable of making deft and sometimes difficult plays, but wasn't as spry as Crawford.
Bochy summarized all that history by saying of Crawford, "That play up the middle, we haven't seen that in a while."
Morse scored on Rick Ankiel's two-out double to forge a 1-1 tie, but that merely set the stage for Crawford to excel again. Batting with two outs and Cody Ross on first base, Crawford drove Sean Burnett's 3-2 curveball to deep right-center field, where it short-hopped the wall. It was Crawford's first hit off a left-handed pitcher in seven at-bats since joining the Giants. He later scored on Eli Whiteside's single to left-center.
Burnett (1-3) was despondent.
"I'll keep taking the ball and, hopefully, start executing pitches," said the reliever, whose ERA ballooned to 5.96. "Today was a couple of bad pitches. When I make a pitch, it's not there. It stinks. I'm giving away games. The team is playing their butts off against good pitchers. I come in the game and I gave it away. I have to apologize to my teammates for every outing."
Crawford had nothing to apologize for, including Bochy's vote of confidence.
"That's a confidence boost right there, knowing I'll be here," said Crawford, who ascended all the way from Class A Advanced San Jose and might have been expected to return to the Minors until his sustained display of competence.
"I'm not going to work any differently," Crawford added. "I'm going to keep working hard."
Cain (5-4) has been synonymous with constant diligence since he joined the Giants toward the end of the 2005 season. Indeed, his effort against the Nationals was reminiscent of some of his early performances, when attempting to overpower hitters was more of a habit for him. This game represented his first double-digit strikeout effort since July 1, 2008, when he retired 10 Cubs on strikes. Besides passing Bob Bolin to move into 12th place on the Giants' all-time strikeout list with 979, Cain also drove in San Francisco's first run with a sixth-inning double off Washington starter Yunesky Maya.
Cain threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 33 hitters he faced, enabling him to put away hitters quickly -- even when he struck them out, which often can be pitch-consuming.
"I think Timmy [Lincecum] does it the greatest," Cain said. "It seems like he strikes out a lot of guys in the first four or so pitches."
Cain's skill was most evident against Morse, Washington's leading hitter who was batting .374 in his previous 29 games. Morse struck out three times, including a fourth-inning whiff which ended when Cain dropped his arm angle and fired a 94-mph fastball.
"Every once in a while I'll try to give a different look," said Cain, who has resorted to this ploy occasionally in his last few games.
Winning two of three from the Nationals also represented a different look for the Giants, who dropped three of four games to the same club April 29-May 2 at Washington.
"They kind of put it to us a little bit when we were in Washington," Cain said. "I think we kind of realized that, so we wanted to play well and take the series from them."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.