SAN FRANCISCO -- That was not a stand-in performing one of Matt Cain's dual roles Saturday at AT&T Park. That was Cain himself, performing double duty with his pitching and hitting that led the Giants to a 5-3 triumph Saturday over the Chicago Cubs.
Cain erased the nagging zeros under his win column and in his offensive ledger. He recorded his first victory since July 22 against San Diego, ending a barren period of 15 starts.
"When you haven't had one in years, it's pretty nice to have," Cain said after limiting Chicago to one run and six hits in six innings.
Cain also ended a streak of 46 hitless at-bats, the longest such stretch in the National League, by clobbering a two-run double in the second inning off Cubs left-hander Jon Lester.
Asked whether he savored the win or the hit more, Cain replied, "They're probably really comparable. I just got lucky. I ran into one right there. But it was definitely nice to be able to give the guys a good chance to win, going against a good guy like Lester."
Cain thus provided himself with the run support that has fluctuated throughout his career. Quite literally, with one swing, he matched the scoring his teammates have provided for him. He entered Saturday having received an average of 1.96 runs per game, the lowest figure in the Major Leagues.
But that didn't seem to matter during Cain's first six starts of the year, when he compiled a 7.84 ERA. Skeptics witnessed Cain's ineffectiveness and wondered whether he would even begin to regain the form that helped him make three All-Star teams.
Suddenly, it happened. Cain didn't sneak up on anybody by defeating the Cubs. He has fashioned a 1.71 ERA in his last three starts, yielding four runs in 21 innings.
Asked to explain his stretch of success, Cain said, "I've been able to make the pitch when I've needed to and be able to get guys out in key situations."
Catcher Buster Posey, who played first base Saturday and backed Cain with a two-run homer, hinted at technical improvement.
"I think he's comfortable in the windup and the stretch right now," Posey said. "It just seems that the ball seems to be coming out very easy."
Having progressed this much, Cain won't take his recent success for granted. He went 0-8 with a 6.17 ERA during that 15-start winless skid. San Francisco had emerged with a victory only twice in his previous eight starts this year. Had he absorbed the defeat Saturday, he would have become the fourth pitcher in the franchise's San Francisco era (since 1958) to begin a season 0-6. The others were Madison Bumgarner (2011), Barry Zito (2008) and Terry Mulholland (1986).
So when he was asked whether he has "turned a corner" in his efforts to re-establish himself, Cain said, "No, I think that would be a bad thing for me. I think the biggest thing is to keep pushing and keep findng ways to get better."
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.