CINCINNATI -- Matt Cain's big year is about to get even bigger.

With a perfect game and an All-Star victory already on his 2012 resume, the Giants right-hander will take the mound Thursday in the deciding game of the National League Division Series.

"He's been our go-to guy all year," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "We couldn't have a better guy out there for Game 5."

Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA during the regular season) will face off against the Cincinnati Reds' Mat Latos (14-4, 3.48) at Great American Ball Park.

It's a showdown between the Giants' best pitcher -- and their biggest enemy. Latos has a history of success against San Francisco (a 2.19 ERA in 74 regular-season innings) as well as history of antagonizing them. Latos has been known to autograph baseballs with the inscription, "I hate SF."

About the only thing these Game 5 starters have in common is their approach.

"I will try to go into it like it's a normal start," Cain said.

"I'm just looking at it as another start," Latos said.

Everyone else will look at it as a fittingly compelling way to settle a season. Cain ranks among the best playoff pitchers in Giants franchise history, having gone 2-1 with a 1.03 ERA over his first four career postseason starts.

Cain's lone playoff loss -- and the lone runs he's allowed -- came in Game 1 against the Reds when he surrendered three runs in five innings at AT&T Park.

"I think I may have been overanxious going out there with the first game being at home," Cain acknowledged Wednesday. "I think I will try to think back to other starts and be more calm and relaxed. I'll be worried about making good pitches."


Advertisement

Until his Game 1 blemish, Cain was venturing into historic territory. He did not allow any earned runs during the first 231/3 innings of his postseason career. The only pitchers in history to throw more innings before surrendering their first postseason earned runs were Waite Hoyt (34.0 IP), Christy Mathewson (28.0), Jonathan Papelbon (26.1) and Jon Matlack (25.0).

Latos, meanwhile, gave up just one run in four innings of relief in Game 1. In diplomatic terms, he acknowledged Wednesday that he is undaunted by the Giants lineup.

"It's a team that I'm comfortable with, a team that I've faced before," he said.

Latos has been more provocative about the Giants in the past. When he was with the San Diego Padres in 2010, he accused the Giants of being a bunch of mercenaries, telling CBSSportsLine: "We could be like the Giants and go change our whole lineup, put guys with 'San Francisco Giants' across their jerseys. We didn't."

Cain, of course, has fonder memories of that 2010 bunch. In fact, he drew a parallel Wednesday between the current team and those World Series champions.

"We've still got that same determination in the clubhouse," he said. "Everybody has that big drive to not want to get sent home."

The Giants gave Cain, 28, a six-year, $127 million contract at the start of the season in hopes that he would pitch in a lot of games just like this. He responded during the regular season by establishing career bests in victories (16), ERA (2.79) and strikeouts (193).

He also tossed the 22nd perfect game in major league history when he beat the Houston Astros 10-0 on June 13.

Now, he'll try to give the Giants a perfect ending.

"He knows how to pitch in this type of environment," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "He's a big-game pitcher. That's what he's been all year long."

Contact Daniel Brown at dbrown@mercurynews.com.