By Michelle Dingley
It was an entirely different type of torture. The tension had been building for hours. Giants fans everywhere held their breath as the last pitch was thrown. Once the last out was recorded, the team converged on the pitcher’s mound, jumping and screaming. The lucky ones in the stands, as well as those watching at home, let out euphoric cries, leaping into each other’s arms in celebration of the historic victory. It was a night Giants fans will remember their entire lives. It felt almost like November 1, 2010 again. On this night we didn’t win the World Series, but June 13, 2012 will live forever in the Giants pantheon. Matt Cain threw a perfect game, the first in the storied franchise’s 129-year history.
Matt Cain has always been sturdy, reliable, and consistent – and that’s on his bad days. On his good days, he is spectacular, electric, a surgeon with his pitches. Even without the perfect game, this season to date has to be the best three months of his career. If the Cy Young voting was today, he’d win hands-down. On April 13, he one-hit the Pirates, striking out 11. The only thing keeping him from perfection was a single by the pitcher James McDonald. At that point, it seemed a forgone conclusion that he would pitch a no-hitter sooner rather than later. His very next start, April 18, was a beautiful pitching duel between Cain and Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee. Matt pitched nine innings of shut-out ball, giving up just 2 hits and a walk. (The game went to extras, and Hensley was credited with the win after Melky Cabrera’s walk-off single in the 11th.) Matt has given up 3 or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 14 starts this season, 4 times not allowing an earned run. Cain’s stats this season are spectacular, with his opponents’ batting average at .199, ERA at 2.34, and a staggering 0.91 WHIP, the second best in the league.
Obviously Cain was rolling before the perfect game. The night before, Madison Bumgarner set the bar high. He threw 7 2/3 innings, giving up just one earned run (and one unearned) while striking out 12 and walking none. Bum also smashed his first career homer, which was no cheapie. The right-handed batter looked like Buster Posey as the ball sailed several rows back into the left field seats. It took perfection for Matt to top that performance.
With Matt on the hill, the Giants took an early lead, giving Cain rare run support. Melky Cabrera hit a two-run bomb in the first. Belt followed that up with a two-run blast of his own in the second. Blanco added on with a two-run jack in the fifth. The Orange and Black kept the hit parade going, eventually scoring 10 runs on 15 hits, a season high for runs scored by the home team at AT&T Park.
With the sizable lead, Cain was able to pitch for perfection, challenging hitters and nibbling less. With a perfecto on the line, I’d rather Cain give up a blast than a walk. Indeed, Matt was occasionally hit hard. In the 6th, Chris Snyder put good wood on a pitch. From the trajectory and the sound of the impact, it surely had to be a home run. However, Melky Cabrera tracked it down right against the wall. The robbery of Snyder’s homer was eerily reminiscent of Ian Kinsler’s well-hit ball in game 2 of the 2010 World Series. Matt Cain had pitched beautifully in the postseason, having not given up an earned run. It appeared that Kinsler had a home run. The ball hit the top of the wall and bounced back into play, turning the rounder-tripper into a two-bagger. Matt would go on to throw all his 21 1/3 postseason innings without giving up an earned run. As the Kinsler ball caromed into Andres Torres’ glove, it seemed destined that the Giants would win the World Series, and indeed they did. Similarly, as Cabrera caught Snyder’s ball on the warning track, the perfect game simply had to happen. Angel Pagan would say later that the ball had gone over the fence; the wind blew it back into the park. Snyder learned the hard way that you can’t fight fate.
Jordan Schafer also got a lesson in fate. In the seventh, Schafer smashed a pitch deep into Triples Alley in right-center. It seemed that Cain would have to settle for a one-hitter. Gregor Blanco would not let that happen. The speedy right fielder turned on the afterburners, covering a ridiculous amount of ground before making the spectacular diving catch. The perfecto was preserved.
In a season where our defense has often been awful, every ball hit into play made me hold my breath. As the game went on, Bochy made defensive substitutions, subbing Joaquin Arias for Pablo Sandoval at third. Brandon Crawford came in at short. Normally a slick fielder, Crawford has an inordinate number of errors this season. As the number of outs left in the game dwindled, it became less likely that Matt would give up a hit and more likely that an error would allow the first baserunner. Each time bat connected with ball, my stomach would churn. On this night, the defense did not let us down. They were there for Matt, each and every Giant.
That night, Cain had the offensive support that he so often lacks; he had exemplary defense backing him up; he had destiny on his side; and, of course, Matt Cain had incredible pitching. Matty had a career-high 14 strikeouts, tying Sandy Koufax for most in a perfect game. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 27 batters. He was dominant the whole night, with all his pitches working. It’ll be hard to top the perfecto, but I know he’ll try.
Matt Cain is just the guy in this rotation that deserves to be Mr. Perfect. A Giant his entire career, Cain epitomizes the home-grown aspect of our franchise, which drafts, develops, and (most importantly) keeps quality players, particularly pitchers. At age 27, Cain is the longest tenured Giant. The organization re-signed him in the offseason, keeping him in orange and black at least until 2017. The five-year extension is worth $112.5 million, the largest guaranteed contract for a right-handed pitcher. Despite the sizable amount of money the Giants shelled out, Cain likely could have gotten more from another team with deeper pockets. The record-setting contract is, in a sense, a hometown discount. There was the possibility that Matt would want to leave SF for a team that would score runs for him. He has had so many quality starts wasted in his career because the team could not provide any run support. He has just recently cracked .500 in his career record. He is 78-75 despite a career 3.28 ERA, .225 opponents’ average and 1.18 WHIP. (Compare this to Jered Weaver, who has put up similar career numbers – 3.25/.234/1.15 – but owns an 89-48 record.) Matt must have decided that wins and personal stats are not the most important thing to him, and he re-signed with the team that got him a World Series ring. That speaks to his loyalty, that he is decent and honorable, sticking with his team and his city rather than jumping ship for more money or better stats. The fans certainly appreciate that Matt will be a staple in our rotation for years to come.
Matt Cain deserves to be the first Giant to ever throw a perfect game. He is our horse; he is a postseason hero; he is an all-around good guy; and, for one beautiful night, he was perfect.