SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Cain was always something of a hard-luck loser, an All-Star pitcher with an earned-run average in the mid-3s but a record that didn't reflect it.
His career ERA is 3.45, and his lifetime regular-season record 57-62.
But Tuesday, Cain won the Giants' most important game since they reached the World Series eight years ago, hurling seven shutout innings in a 3-0 victory over the Phillies in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
The Giants took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and will host the next two games.
"It has to be right up there with one of his best," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Cain's start.
The soft-spoken Cain went a step further.
"I would say this probably has to be … this has to be the top one, really," he said. "To be able to pitch in the postseason is great, and to be able to throw the ball, throw the ball well and help your team win, you know, is a great feeling."
Suddenly, the two-time defending National League champion Phillies' season is riding on the shoulder of the mediocre Joe Blanton, who last pitched on Oct. 3. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he would stick with starting the right-hander who posted a 4.82 ERA this season instead of bringing back ace Roy Halladay to pitch on short rest in Game 4 on Wednesday.
The Phillies haven't hit this October the way they have in the World Series runs of Octobers past. They were held to three hits Tuesday, two off Cain and one off closer Brian Wilson that set up a game-ending double-play grounder by Raul Ibanez.
Cain's regular-season record of 13-11 is more a reflection of the run support provided by the Giants' light-hitting offense than of the way he pitched. He caught some uncharacteristic breaks in the fourth inning.
A two-out single off 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels by Marlins castoff Cody Ross put the Giants on top 1-0. The next hitter in Rejects Row, lowly regarded free-agent signing Aubrey Huff, hit a ball that bounced off the glove of diving second baseman Chase Utley to double the margin to 2-0.
Cain took care of the rest.
With two on and two out, Bochy trotted out of the dugout to visit Cain.
"Really, more than anything, just check on him," Bochy said. "He had that look."
But Bochy kept him in to face Shane Victorino.
With the count full, Cain threw a fastball that Victorino grounded to second. Three out.
The pitch was the last Cain would throw. It was his 119th.