Giants 3, White Sox 2

Monday, March 26th 2007, 9:30 pm

By: News On 6

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ Matt Cain went 6 innings, catcher Bengie Molina worked 9 and closer Armando Benitez got an impressive 4-out save.

For the San Francisco Giants, Monday's 3-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox was about as close to a real game as they've played all spring.

They ended a six-game skid, too _ the club's longest in exhibition play since losing seven straight in March 2001.

Benitez, booed almost every time he pitched during an injury-shortened 2006 season, pumped his fist in celebration and received a hug and a handshake from Molina after Tadahito Iguchi struck out on a slider to end it. Iguchi already had homered, tripled and singled in the game.

Benitez, who earned his first save, also got Gustavo Molina to fly out to left with the bases loaded in the 8th.

``It's good. People can see I can save the game,'' Benitez said afterward, an ice bag on each knee and his right elbow. ``You get excited. I like to come into that situation. You have to make a quality pitch. If you make a mistake it can cost you the game.''

Bengie Molina, the Giants' new catcher, has been pleased with Benitez's performance this spring.

``He's ready to go. He's ready to pitch. He's ready to show everybody that he's ready,'' he said. ``He's a true closer. He's not a joke. ... The guy can pitch, man.''

The White Sox, meanwhile, are not optimistic about the health of backup catcher Toby Hall, who hurt his right shoulder. He was injured in the 9th inning of Chicago's 10-2 loss to the Texas Rangers on Sunday and is expected to miss significant time with what is thought to be a torn labrum.

Hall, who was playing 1st base and got hurt when he dove for a groundball, underwent an MRI exam Monday and the White Sox were working to schedule an appointment for him with Angels orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum for further testing.

General manager Kenny Williams said the club would fill the position internally, with either Gustavo Molina or Wiki Gonzalez.

``We've got to be patient,'' said manager Ozzie Guillen, who will poll his pitching staff about the comfort level with both. ``We can't make Kenny go out and make deals if we don't need it.''

Cain, slated as San Francisco's No. 2 starter behind Barry Zito, had strong performances in his final two Cactus League starts and keeps getting better each outing. He was done with the 1st inning on 4 pitches.

Cain, coming off a great rookie season, allowed 1 run and 4 hits, struck out 4 and walked 2 in 6 innings.

``The biggest thing is just trying to throw a lot of strikes and get guys out early,'' he said. ``My goal this offseason was not to walk a lot of guys.''

Barry Bonds went 0-3 with 2 more strikeouts, giving him 4 Ks in his last two games.

Both teams used almost regular lineups as the Cactus League enters its final few days before teams break camp. For the Giants, Ryan Klesko played 1st base instead of Rich Aurilia, who is nursing a groin strain.

``Getting close,'' Giants center fielder Dave Roberts said about having the lineup in order.

Roberts, San Francisco's new center fielder and leadoff hitter, returned for the first time since Wednesday. He had a sprained ligament in his right clavicle area, but reported no problems after the game.

Randy Winn drove in all 3 Giants runs, including a 2-run triple in the 4th.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy left after the morning workout for Melbourne, Fla., to attend the memorial of his mother, Melrose. Bench coach Ron Wotus will run the team in his absence, which will be until Thursday night's exhibition game against the Seattle Mariners in San Francisco.

Bochy met with reserve Mark Sweeney in his office before leaving town. Sweeney is unlikely to make the team and would prefer to know as soon as possible to increase his chances of making another club.

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