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Stretching the Field: Giants' rotation starting absolute rule

(Sports Network) - Kevin Costner spewed several memorable quotes in his role as a washed-up catcher during the 1988 film "Bull Durham."

This quip is one of the more significant:

"Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring. Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls -- it's more democratic."

There's nothing wrong with fascism in baseball. It fits perfectly with pitchers and their one-party system. San Francisco Giants starters have been enjoying their own dictatorship lately, a topic that Costner would probably take to the mound for discussion.

Costner also said in other words that it's important to play the game with fear and arrogance. The fear factor is what keeps players, especially pitchers, honest on the playing field. Nobody is invincible -- not even Vince Papale -- when it comes to pitching, even though the Giants have been hurling untouchable stuff to the tune of a franchise-record four consecutive shutouts.

And that's what makes pitching so glamorous; a man by himself commanding all the attention and respect of his peers. As the pitcher goes, so does the team. A little bit of arrogance, or swag as the kids say these days, is added fuel.

Barry Zito was the first to get the ball rolling with seven shutout innings in Monday's 8-0 pounding of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who now sit behind the Giants for the National League West lead. Ryan Vogelsong had similar results in Tuesday's 2-0 victory over the Dodgers, while struggling staff ace and two- time NL Cy Young Award recipient Tim Lincecum caught the fever on Wednesday.

Lincecum joined Zito and Vogelsong with seven scoreless innings to help the Giants complete the sweep of Los Angeles with a 3-0 triumph.

Madison Bumgarner had the best performance of them all when he delivered a one- hitter in Thursday's 5-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Bumgarner now leads the Giants with 10 wins and extended the club's franchise-record scoreless innings streak to 36 -- the most since a 31-inning run from Sept. 4-7, 2010.

It was also the first complete game of the left-hander's career.

"It's been quite an impressive run these guys have been on," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's how good they are. They all have been locked in. Four consecutive shutouts -- I've never seen it, it's so hard to do.

"You have to have four pitchers on top of their game, and Madison was tonight," Bochy added. "That's quite the game he threw. He had all his stuff going, he hit spots. He pitched efficiently, he was outstanding."

The last team to post four shutouts in a row was the 1995 Baltimore Orioles, who recorded five straight to end the campaign.

San Francisco's mound surge has the club in the driver's seat of the NL West for the first time all season and riding a season-high four-game winning streak. Having outscored the opposition by an 18-0 margin during the winning streak, the Giants, who are 4-0 on a seven-game homestand, have the NL's best record in June at 17-9.

Next up for the Giants' pitching staff is Mr. Perfect (not Curt Hennig), Matt Cain.

Cain, of course, tossed the first perfect game in the ballclub's 130-year history on June 13 against the Houston Astros and has allowed just four earned runs over his past four starts. Cain hasn't lost since a 2-1 setback to Miami on May 1, going 8-0 with a 2.23 ERA in 10 starts since. Cain did not record a decision in Sunday's 4-2 loss at Oakland and held the Athletics to a run and three hits in seven innings. He is 9-2 in 15 starts with a 2.27 ERA.

Bumgarner gave Cain some tongue-in-cheek advice on keeping the impressive scoreless innings streak going against the Reds Friday night:

"I said, 'Don't worry about it. There's no pressure. All you've got to do is throw a shutout.'"

That's obviously easier said than done, which is why Bumgarner said it.

Not to brush hitting under the rug, but San Francisco has been able to aid its starters with a respectable amount of run support. Whether Cain gets a fair share is unknown, but at least the Giants have started to turn the corner in hopes of heading to the All-Star break on a hot streak.

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