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Cain tops Cubs to earn first win of 2016

Buster Posey blasted a two-run home run and Matt Cain chucked six strong innings of one-run baseball en route to his first win since last July to lift the Giants to a 5-3 triumph over the Chicago Cubs Saturday.

One could be forgiven for mistaking AT&T Park for the New York Mets’ Citi Field, as blue-clad Cubbies fans peppered patches of orange in the ballpark for the Giants’ late afternoon, nationally-televised affair against Chicago.

After seeing their eight-game winning streak snapped at the hands of the Cubs’ (29-12) Jake Arrieta and his Major League-best ERA Friday night, the Giants (26-19) righted the ship behind the veteran Cain (W, 1-5, 5.37 ERA), who fanned five and allowed six hits on 105 pitches.

This story has been updated with quotes and additional material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Said Cain after the game:

“When you haven’t had [a win] in a year, it’s definitely nice to have one. … You’re wanting to go out there and give your guys a chance to win. When the team wins it’s great, but it’s also nice to win when you haven’t had one in a long time.”

The Giants forced Cubs starter Jon Lester (L, 4-3 , 2.60 ERA) out after just 2-2/3 innings. It was Lester’s briefest outing of the season, and his shortest since joining Chicago ahead of the 2015 campaign.

The Giants struck first, notching two runs off Lester in the second inning.

After Brandon Crawford reached on an infield single, Gregor Blanco drew a two-out walk with the pitcher on deck. Cain then helped himself to a double driven sharply over the head of Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler. Crawford and Blanco both scored easily, with both base runners running on Lester’s full-count offering.

Coming into Saturday, Cain had one career at-bat against Lester, in which he struck out. The double was Cain’s first hit since 2014, and his first double since 2012.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn’t go as far to say Cain was a hitting pitcher of the Madison Bumgarner variety, but he did recall a time when Cain was reliable for a good at bat here and there:

I think we’re just glad he made contact. He’s had a hard time doing that at the plate. He’s been striking out quite a bit. And Matt earlier on — he was a threat up there. He did good things with the bat but he’s had a tough time at the plate [lately]. But that was a nice piece of hitting there. …With pitchers, I’ve talked about this so many times. There’s so many different ways they can help themselves win a ballgame. He certainly did that today.”

The Cubs responded in the top half of the third. With one out, reigning National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant drove Cain’s 2-2 pitch over the wall in straight-away center field for a solo shot, his ninth homer of the season.

The one run was all Cain would allow in the third.

The Giants tacked on in the bottom half and it started with Joe Panik’s lead off  double down the left field line. Panik was then sac bunted to third by Kelby Tomlinson, hitting third in the Giants’ lineup Saturday. Posey promptly drove Lester’s 62nd pitch of the afternoon 423 feet into the left field bleachers. The homer, Posey’ fifth of 2016, left in a hurry, with an exit speed of 108 mph, per MLB Statcast.

It was Posey’s first long ball since May 1, but the former NL MVP didn’t seem too bothered by the recent power drought after the game:

I’ve gone through stretches when I think it’s kind of nagged at me more than this one has. It definitely helps when you’re winning ballgames. If you do have a little dry spell, it helps if we’ve won a lot of games in the past 10 days or so.”

The Giants weren’t done scoring. Matt Duffy singled on a hard-hit grounder Cubs shortstop Addison Russell couldn’t quite handle. Duffy stole second on the next pitch, which proved fruitful when Giants catcher Trevor Brown singled down the left field line, plating Duffy from second. Brown tried to take second on the hit but was deemed to have been beat by Cubs left fielder Jorge Soler’s throw, after MLB officials in New York reviewed the play.

Lester would not escape the third. He walked Brandon Crawford on five pitches after Brown’s single, prompting Cubs manager Joe Maddon to bring in hard-throwing right-handed reliever Trevor Cahill.

That proved to be the end of the Giants’ scoring, but it also proved to be more than Cain really needed. He cruised through the middle innings and struck out the side in in the sixth, his final inning of work.

The Giants bullpen combined to allow two runs on four hits and two walks over the final three innings.

On Cain’s ongoing return to form from the elbow issues that plagued the right-hander in 2014 and 2015, Bochy expressed joy after the game at what appears to be a resurgence of a pitcher who entered the year surrounded by questions, even doubt:

“I know it’s been a long road for him with all he’s gone through, but I think what’s more important is the way he’s been throwing the ball. He threw the ball well in his last start in Arizona and the start before that. He had that good tempo going, that rhythm. Today he pitched a really nice ballgame. It’s good to see him gain traction the way he has. He’s a big part of this staff and we’re gonna need our starters to give us a chance. He’s more than doing that. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Dexter Fowler lead off the top of the ninth with a home run that eked over the right field brick to make for another nervy display from Santiago Casilla. The Giants’ closer would settle down to retire Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist in order for his 11th save of 2016.

The Giants trot Madison Bumgarner (5-2, 2.45 ERA) out against Chicago in Sunday evening’s nationally broadcast (ESPN) rubber match. The Cubs, still boasting Major League Baseball’s best record, send Kyle Hendricks (2-3, 3.51 ERA) to the mound in their final regular season appearance in San Francisco for 2016.

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