Cain mature for his deceptive age
Righty doesn't rely on run support, other outside factors
OAKLAND -- Matt Cain made his big league debut in 2005, and he's made at least 32 starts in each of the past three seasons. He's a big, strapping lad with close-cropped hair, he's partial to polo shirts and jeans, and he likes to hunt.
Tim Lincecum made his big league debut in 2007. He's neither big nor strapping, he's rarely seen in public without a skate-rat beanie partially obscuring his unruly mop of shoulder-length hair, and he takes a measure of pride in his video-game proficiency.
Quick: Which Giants right-hander is older?
"You could probably win some bets with that question," left-hander Barry Zito said with a laugh.
After four strong innings Saturday in his final tuneup before the regular season, Cain estimated that if 100 people were asked, "probably 20" would get it right
Probably fewer. Although virtually everything about them suggests otherwise, Lincecum is 3 1/2 months older than Cain.
"Cainer's been around a while, and Timmy's still kind of the fresh new flavor," Zito said. "So yeah, it's a trip that Timmy's the older of the two."
Also a trip: On a starting staff that features three Cy Young winners -- 45-year-old Randy Johnson, Zito, 30, and Lincecum -- the baby of the bunch, Cain, has been with the team the longest.
"It's kinda weird, isn't it?" Cain conceded. "Especially being so young."
Having won the 2008 National League Cy Young Award, Lincecum, who turns 25 on June 15, has a much higher profile nationally than Cain, who turns 25 on Oct. 1.
Lincecum is a superstar. Cain is star-crossed.
Like Lincecum, he's a power pitcher with a plus breaking ball who can make opponents look overmatched. Baseball insiders long ago pegged him Cain as a future Cy Young winner, and already he's taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning four times. But Cain's career thus far reads a little bit like a Murphy's Law manual.
If there's a way to spoil a quality start from Cain, the Giants find it. Sometimes it's an especially untimely error. Sometimes it's a bullpen breakdown. More often than not, it's a glaring lack of run support.
He went 7-16 despite finishing with the 10th best ERA in the NL (3.65). Last year he went 8-14 with a 3.76 ERA, victimized by the lowest run support in the league. Since the start of the 2007 season, the Giants have scored one run or zero runs in 29 of Cain's 66 starts.
"And I've never -- never -- heard him complain about it," Zito said. "That's pretty amazing, especially for someone that young, but that's the kind of guy Matt is. If he takes the 'L,' he takes the 'L.' He wears it. He holds himself responsible, not others."
Cain, who said he prefers pitching in low-scoring games because it helps him stay focused, offered his theory on the concept of bad luck in baseball after departing Saturday's game.
"You'd love to get five or six runs every game, but ... that's not the way the game is. It just doesn't work that way," Cain offered. "There's a lot that happens out there that can't be controlled all the time, especially by a starting pitcher. So when the bullpen gives up some runs late or something like that, maybe I should have stayed out there longer.
"When you lose a game, you think about what you could have done better -- instead of pointing the finger at someone else."
The Giants didn't do much scoring for Cain on Saturday, either. But the finale of a three-game exhibition series against the host A's wasn't about winning or losing for Cain. It was about getting his work in, and the first inning was nothing if not laborious.
Cain gave up a leadoff single and walked three, including one with the bases loaded, on 36 pitches for the frame. The poise with which Zito is so impressed, however, allowed Cain to limit the damage and turn his final tuneup before the regular season into a fairly satisfying outing.
In addition to walking three, Cain also struck out the side, fanning Jack Cust and Kurt Suzuki with the bags full to get out of the inning. Thereafter, he allowed one more hit, one more walk and struck out three over three scoreless innings before taking a seat with his pitch count at 72.
Cain said that pitching in a Major League stadium for the first time this year had him a little more pumped up than he'd expected to be for an exhibition start.
"Usually in the spring it's pretty mellow," he explained. "But it was nice to have that [extra adrenaline]. That's what it's going to be like during the season, so you might as well get used to it now."
'Sticking points ... : While the A's trotted out their projected regulars, the Giants went with something considerably less than that. Travis Ishikawa, Pablo Sandoval and Aaron Rowand were the only position players in the starting lineup who figure to be there on Opening Day on Tuesday, and only Ishikawa played his primary position -- first base. Sandoval started at catcher, and Rowand was San Francisco's designated hitter. ... You know it's still Spring Training when the general manager settles into a seat a couple of rows behind the backstop in the middle of the second inning. That was Brian Sabean on Saturday. ... Rowand, whose swing has been a source of concern this spring, was 0-for-3 before his leadoff double in the ninth inning. It wasn't exactly a rocket, though. It was more of a well-placed popup that fell in front of Oakland's left fielder. Rowand is batting .192.
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.