A string of outstanding pitching performances has pushed the San Francisco Giants to the brink of their second World Series title in three years. They'll turn to one of the franchise's best postseason starters to complete that championship run with a sweep.
Matt Cain will try to close out yet another series while adding to his playoff legacy in Sunday night's Game 4 against the Detroit Tigers.
Since facing elimination in the NL championship series, the Giants have been nearly untouchable during a franchise-best six consecutive postseason victories. The team's pitchers have allowed four runs over 54 innings (0.67 ERA) and their starters have given up two over 38 2-3 frames (0.47).
Even with the World Series shifting to Detroit's Comerica Park, San Francisco recorded a second straight 2-0 victory Saturday. Ryan Vogelsong, former NL Cy Young winner turned reliever Tim Lincecum and Sergio Romo combined to blank the Tigers on five hits while Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford drove in runs during the second inning.
The consecutive shutouts were the first in the World Series since Baltimore recorded three in a row to close out the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966.
"It's a good situation, but there's nothing been done yet," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's a number, just like I said about two. Now it's three. But that's not the series. So you have to keep going about your business as usual, and come out tomorrow ready to go."
Having rallied in each of its two previous series, San Francisco will now try to extinguish the Tigers' hopes of a comeback with help from Cain, who has one of the best ERAs among Giants pitchers with at least 40 postseason innings. The right-hander's 1.83 mark in seven playoff starts ranks only behind Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson (1.06) and Carl Hubbell (1.79).
Cain was virtually flawless during his team's 2010 championship march with one unearned run allowed in 21 1-3 innings. He had given up three runs in each of his first three starts of these playoffs, going 1-2 with a 4.67 ERA, before pitching 5 2-3 scoreless innings in Game 7 of the NLCS.
"I think your great players, for the most part, are those types of (clutch) players," Bochy said. "They seem to play better when the club needs them. The higher the stakes, the more they do to elevate their game.
"And I certainly would put Matt Cain in that class."
Cain will try to deliver another clutch performance in his first start against Detroit and his third postseason outing on the road. He had a significantly higher ERA away from home (3.56) during the regular season than at AT&T Park (2.03), and is 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA in his two road starts this postseason.
The Tigers' slumping lineup, batting .165 with three runs scored over the past three games, will try to take advantage of what little edge they can get.
"You don't really have to tell them anything. They can count," manager Jim Leyland said. "They're big guys, they know what the situation is."
Max Scherzer, meanwhile, will try to add to a superb postseason and help Detroit stave off elimination while snapping a six-game World Series losing streak.
"I absolutely relish it. I mean, this is the start of a lifetime to be able to pitch in the World Series," he said. "You know, every game you pitch in the World Series is a must?win game, so what better opportunity than the one I have."
The right-hander has yielded two runs, five hits and three walks in two starts while striking out 18. He fanned 10 over 5 2-3 innings on Oct. 18 as the Tigers completed their ALCS sweep of the New York Yankees with an 8-1 win.
Scherzer is 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA in four career matchups with the Giants, the most recent a 15-3 drubbing on July 2, 2011, in Detroit. He gave up nine runs - six earned - over two-plus innings in that game.
NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro is 4 for 9 all-time against Scherzer, and Blanco is 3 for 5. AL triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, hitting .267 with one home run and six RBIs in this postseason, has one homer in six at-bats versus Cain while fellow former NL players Prince Fielder and Omar Infante are each 5 for 18.