ST. LOUIS -- Matt Cain threw exactly 100 pitches, mixing two-seam fastballs and four-seam fastballs with changeups, sliders and curves. And when all was said and done, he was pretty happy with 99 of them.
When Cain starts, the Giants expect to win, and it usually works out that way. San Francisco was 21-11 in his starts during the regular season, including eight of the last 10 times his turn in the rotation rolled around.
They didn't win Wednesday in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium, though. The Giants lost, 3-1, to the Cardinals and find themselves down, two games to one, in the best-of-seven series That was partly due to the fact that the Giants scored just one run, but Cain focused on the one pitch that rookie Matt Carpenter belted for a two-run homer in the third inning.
"It's tough," Cain said. "We had some chances, but those guys made some good pitches to get them out of it and not let us score. That's what you want, a lot of opportunities. In this game we just came up a little short and I made a bad pitch and it cost us."
The pitch in question came with two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the third, after the Giants had taken an early lead in the top of the inning. Carpenter, in the game only because starter Carlos Beltran had to leave after one at-bat because of a strained left knee, ran the count to 2-2. Cain's game plan was to throw a slider down and in.
"It just kind of stayed in the middle," Cain said. "It was a bad pitch."
Cain admitted that he thought Beltran's departure was a plus for the Giants, even though he doesn't have an extensive scouting report on Carpenter.
"With him being out, yeah, that's something you try to take advantage of, and I didn't do a good job of it," Cain said. "With what he's done in the postseason this year and in the past is pretty tremendous. But Carpenter and the guys who are going to replace him are going to play well also. Even if you don't have a real book on them, you've still got to make good pitches. And that's what I failed to do."
Making it more frustrating for the Giants was that Cain was extremely sharp after posting an uncharacteristic 5.06 ERA in his first two postseason starts this October. He was back on his game Wednesday, but the Giants couldn't convert that into a win.
"That was probably the best I've felt," he said. "I was locating on both sides of the plate, throwing everything for strikes, getting ahead of guys. It was definitely the best I've felt out of the three starts so far."
With the Giants' rotation in a bit of a flux -- Tim Lincecum will make his first start of the playoffs Thursday night and Madison Bumgarner has been replaced in the rotation by Barry Zito for Game 5 -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy conceded that it hurt to let Game 3 get away.
"We felt it was an important game, no getting around it," Bochy said. "And we got a great effort by Matt. Really, he pitched well. Made that one mistake. He hung that slider there that went for a home run. And other than that, he really pitched well. He pitched very efficiently. He gave us a chance to win. And we had our chances."
Cain started the game knowing that the weather forecast was dire and that a delay was possible at almost any moment. As it turned out, the tarp was rolled onto the field immediately after Bochy made the decision to pull him with two outs in the seventh. Cain said that wasn't a distraction.
"We were going at it just like a regular game. If the weather came, it came. And it ended up coming in the seventh inning," he said.
It wasn't a regular game, of course. It was a pivotal playoff game the Giants needed to win. They didn't. And, from Cain's perspective, the reason came down to just one pitch.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.