ATLANTA — Matt Cain dominated for eight innings.
The San Francisco Giants were barely hanging on at the end.
Cain threw five-hit ball to snap his three-game losing streak, but the Giants barely avoided another loss to Atlanta in the final at-bat, preserving a 7-5 victory over the Braves on Wednesday night.
After Cain turned over a 7-1 lead, the Braves scored four runs and had the tying run at the plate. But Brian McCann struck out swinging against Jeremy Affeldt.
“I think we won,” manager Bruce Bochy quipped. “Just when you think you have a chance to cross your legs for a second, we’re facing the tying run up there.”
The Giants broke it open with four runs in the fourth, one of them driven in by Cain (10-9) on a sacrifice fly. But he did his best work on the mound, striking out nine and giving up only an unearned run in the first on Chipper Jones’ bases-loaded walk.
Cain started working out of the stretch exclusively, even while retiring the last 18 hitters he faced.
“Mechanically, in the windup, I wasn’t quite going right,” he said. “So I switched to the stretch to try to keep stuff a little more in line and found that good rhythm and just tried to stay with it.”
San Francisco pounded All-Star Jair Jurrjens (12-5), taking advantage of a pitcher who wasn’t sharp in his first start coming off the disabled list. He surrendered eight hits and five runs in six innings.
“I felt good,” Jurrjens insisted. “I just left some pitches up. I was a little rusty.”
The Braves won the first two games of the series, rallying for three runs in the ninth for a 5-4 victory Monday, then pulling out a 2-1 win in 11 innings on Tuesday. They nearly did it again, closing to 7-5 on Martin Prado’s two-run double after Giants shortstop Orlando Cabrera dropped Michael Bourn’s soft blooper behind the mound to extend the inning.
But Affeldt got McCann on a 3-2 pitch.
“You don’t want to go down without a fight,” Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman said. “At least we gave them a little scare at the end.”
Once the Giants pushed their margin above three runs, Atlanta was in trouble. San Francisco improved to 32-0 when leading by at least three runs, the majors’ only undefeated team in those situations.
The win came at a good time for the struggling Giants, who’ve been plagued by injuries and were knocked out of first in the NL West with a stretch of only five wins in 18 games. They closed to 2 1⁄2 games behind Arizona in the division race and with five games of wild card-leading Atlanta.
The Giants broke open a 1-all game in the fourth. Aubrey Huff led off with a double, Nate Schierholtz singled and Cabrera brought home the go-ahead run with the third hit in a row. Brandon Belt walked to load the bases, and Eli Whiteside pushed the lead to 3-1 with another run-scoring single.
Back-to-back drives to the warning track made it 5-1. Cain hit a sacrifice fly to deep center, and Cody Ross followed with a liner that was caught in front of the left-field wall, allowing Belt to trot home.
Jurrjens wasn’t exactly fooling the Giants even when his teammates caught the ball. Schierholtz hit one to the track in right that was hauled in by Jose Constanza.
San Francisco closer Brian Wilson wasn’t available to pitch after flying to Florida to have his ailing right elbow checked out. It’s nothing serious, but Bochy gave Wilson a second night off to rest his arm.
The way Cain pitched, it looked like the Giants would be just fine without the bearded one.
Then came the ninth.
“We’ve had a couple heartbreakers at the end the last two nights here,” Cain said. “It just seemed like everything accumulated. It was really nice to get everybody relaxed and go out there and have fun, so we can just carry that over into the rest of the week.”
San Francisco jumped ahead in the first on back-to-back doubles by Mike Fontenot and Pablo Sandoval. The Braves tied it up in the bottom half, taking advantage of a miscue by Sandoval at third base.
With two runners on and one out, Sandoval fielded Dan Uggla’s grounder and attempted to tag Bourn running toward third. But Bourn dodged the glove, and Sandoval’s throw to first was too late to get Uggla, either. It was the first of three errors by the Giants.
Cain struck out Freeman with the bases loaded, but Jones walked to bring home the tying run.