Matt Cain And Perfection

Matt Cain threw a perfect game Wednesday night, the first one in the 128-year history of the Giants franchise. Just moments after the game ended, Dave Cameron provided some historical context on Cain’s pitching performance, looking at the highest GameScores in baseball history. I’ve had a bit more time for reflection.

If you read my posts regularly, you know I’m a Giants fan. A passionate, analytical, demanding Giants fan. I watch or listen to nearly every game. I pore over numbers and charts. I conjure trades and free-agent signings, and despair when they don’t come to fruition. I complain about lineups and bullpen usage and Brandon Belt not getting enough playing time. Yes, a lot of complaining about Brandon Belt. You do the same for your favorite team. We love baseball. We love our team. It’s what we do.

I watched the game at home with my kids. It’s summer time and they’re out of school, so the “no TV during dinner” rule is relaxed. Good thing. Cain threw the first pitch at 7:15 p.m. and before I could say “finish your vegetables, kids” the top of the first was over. Strikeout. Strikeout. Pop up. Nothing unusual. Cain’s pitched very well this season and he typically has easy first innings. Tonight was no different.

The Giants scored two in the bottom of the first off a home run by Melky Cabrera. Brandon Belt doubled the score in the second with another two-run shot. It was Belt’s second home run of the season. The first came in Tuesday night’s game, on his last at-bat of the game. The buzz on the broadcast and on twitter focused on the sudden power surge for the Giants. Before Tuesday’s game, the Giants had played 16 consecutive home games without hitting a home run.

By the end of the second, the Giants led 5-0. In the post-Bonds years, the Giants haven’t played many games with an early lead, much less a 5-run lead in the third. Especially when Matt Cain is on the mound. In Cain’s 216 career regular-season starts before the perfect game, the Giants had scored 5 or more runs in the game only 68 times.

The lead grew to 7-0 after three innings and to 8-0 after four. It was time to clean up from dinner and start getting the kids to bed. No worries. I’d watch an inning or two on Gameday and come back to the broadcast. But that didn’t happen. I stood at the sink, filled to brim with dirty dishes, and watched Cain pitch. 30 minutes later, I hadn’t moved an inch.

The fastball was zipping. The change-up was darting. And the curve was curving. Cain’s motion looked effortless. Every pitch seemed to have a little extra on it.

Indeed, they did. The average velocities on his two-seamer (91.4), his four-seamer (91.6), his curve (78.3) and his change-up (86.2) were the highest of the season. More than one mile per hour faster on each pitch, as compared to the Giants’ home opener, when Cain pitched a one-hitter, facing only one batter over the minimum.

I was mesmerized.

“Mommy, I need you,” sobbed my 8-year-old. “I need you upstairs. Now.”

My daughter loves the Giants and loves Matt Cain but on this night, her focus was on the play she’ll be performing in on Friday. “I can’t remember all the lines to the songs I have to sing. We don’t have enough time. It’s too much pressure.”  As she lay on the floor of her room in tears, I toggled back and forth between Gameday on my iPad and twitter on my phone. Gameday’s reporting of Chris Snyder‘s flyout to left fielder Melky Cabrera in the top of the 6th became “Oh wow! What a catch by Melky” on twitter.

“It’s too much pressure,” she repeated.

“You want to know pressure?!?!” I thought. “Matt Cain’s pitching a perfect game through six innings. That’s pressure!”

But that’s not what I said.

I sat quietly on the floor with her, holding her in my arms. I thought about what it means to feel pressure, about wanting to do your very best. I thought about how an 8-year-old deals with that. I thought about how Matt Cain has dealt with it since becoming a Giant in 2005: with quiet strength, calmness, humor, and dignity. I wondered what Matt Cain was like as an 8-year-old. I wondered if he’d ever thrown himself on the floor after a Little League game, in tears and frustration.

I wondered what was going on in the game.

I missed Gregor Blanco‘s spectacular catch in the top of the 7th. (I’ve since made up for that by watching the replay 7,382 times. You can start now, here.) By the time I got my daughter in and out of the bath, she’d stopped crying, it was the 8th inning, and my heart was beating out of my chest.

I was lucky enough to be at AT&T Park for Jonathan Sanchez‘s no-hitter in 2009. I was there when Bonds hit 660. I was there for every home game of the 2010 postseason, save for one. I know how that ballpark feels when something special is happening. I felt it. I knew it.

When Joaquin Arias fielded the grounder to third off the bat of Bay Area-native Jason Castro with two outs in the ninth, I held my breath. Arias moved back on the ball and to his right, throwing off his back foot. The throw seemed to take forever to land in Brandon Belt’s glove at first. But land there, it did.

Perfection.

And then the tears. The sobbing, uncontrollable tears. Not my daughter’s, but mine.

“Why are you crying, Mommy?”

“Matt Cain threw a perfect game,” I said. “Do you know how hard that is to do? Do you know how rare it is?”

“I want to be perfect on Friday,” she said.

Don’t we all.




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Wendy's baseball writing has also been published by Sports on Earth. ESPN.com, SB Nation, The Score, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


34 Responses to “Matt Cain And Perfection”

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  1. Kyle says:

    Awesome post. Congrats to all Giants fans.

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  2. Bigmouth says:

    You “pore” over numbers and charts,

    /pedantry

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  3. fergie348 says:

    Well said, Wendy. I showed a video Blanco’s catch to my kids this morning, then showed them the video of the last play. My youngest asked me ‘Daddy, did you hurt yourself?’ I had to explain to him how tears are sometimes for happy moments..

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  4. Josh says:

    Enjoyed reading this. I watched from the 6th inning on. My girlfriend also watched (she cares and knows absolutely zero about baseball). During the 7th inning even she had her fingers gripped on the couch and said “this is intense!”.

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  5. Jimmy Dugan says:

    There’s no crying in baseball.

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  6. TiensyGohan says:

    5 runs or more of run-support in a 3rd of the games pitched sounds like quite a lot actually.

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  7. Pig.Pen says:

    The only other person I would have rather seen throw a no-hitter is Will Clark and since that is mostly impossible on multiple levels, to see Cain do it is special. TAKE THAT xFIP!!

    Also, there’s no crying in baseball, but it sure was dusty, almost like onion dust.

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  8. Simply great, Wendy, simply great.

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  9. qpontiac says:

    Well put. Like you I’m a Giant fanatic. I live in Tucson and also watch all the games on DirecTV. Last night, after the 4th when Cain had 7 K’s I texted a buddy who is a Dodger fan and was trying to feed me propoganda on how Eovaldi is equal to the likes of Bumgarner and Cain, and I told my buddy that I didn’t know how the Giant game would play out, but it had just had, after four innings, the makings of something special. Whether it was Cain striking out 18 Astros, Cain throwing a No-No, Melky hitting for the cycle, I didn’t know, but magic was certainly in the air.

    Reminded me of November 2010 and that is a good thing.

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  10. DrBGiantsfan says:

    I already get goosebumps when that TV ad comes on CSN Bay Area where the narrator intones, “….you best believe Matt Cain will stand up for you.” I am pretty sure I’m going to lose it completely then next time that ad comes on.

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  11. RogerClemensNeedle says:

    I think Cain owes the most credit to J Happ for pitching so terrible that the rest of the Astros gave up. Congrats Cain.. you have the weakest perfect game of all time.

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  12. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I love this on so many levels, just the celebration of this fantastic achievment and how it drives our enjoyment of this great game of baseball.

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  13. Big Jgke says:

    Excelsior!

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  14. Kerry says:

    Great post, Wendy. Love the 8-year old drama mixed in. Such patience you have to miss the game for her drama :)

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  15. Paris of the Plains says:

    There are perfect games in parenting, too, Wendy–exhilirating but sometimes messy, relying on your own strengths but sometimes needing big plays by others–and right here between Fathers’ Day and Mothers’ Day, here’s hoping that all of us mothers and fathers get to walk off the field knowing that we threw one.

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  16. Mark says:

    This is the best article I have ever read on Fangraphs. Bar none.

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  17. Andy says:

    Excellent piece, Wendy. Thank you.

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  18. Carolyn says:

    I was verklempt at the game last night, but reading this put me over the top and made me grab a tissue. This is the essence: How hard we all try to be perfect — as parents, as significant others, at our jobs — and how seldom we’re able to accomplish that; how we learn to deal with that frustration as we mature; and how when an athlete is able to achieve that perfection for even three hours, we can all celebrate it in a personal way. Lovely piece.

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  19. Slats says:

    Hammels wiith a line of 6 IP 8 H 7 R 6 ER and Matt Cain with a PERFECT GAME both went 1-0 on the night

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  20. MrKnowNothing says:

    My dad and I bonded over the Giants. Six weeks ago at 63 he passed. I was thankful he got to see the Giants win the Series. And I couldn’t help but think, “Well, if he’s got any sway, he sure used it on that Blanco catch.”. On every strikeout, then near the end in every out, I found myself talking to him. “Can you believe Cain’s got that many Ks?” Baseball and sports “don’t matter” – until they do. And when they do, they make everything else more important.

    I’ll never forget last night; kinda felt like I had one last game with the old man.

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  21. Quyen says:

    Great post, Wendy. Demian and I were watching at home and he, being a lifelong fan, couldn’t believe it. He screamed so loud the babies woke up. Hope you are well! xxoo, Quyen

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  22. ColeHamels1510_740M/770V says:

    It’s like Matt Cain getting a 1600 (math + verbal)! But this is better!

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  23. CJ says:

    NOTE: this is just an interesting thing I’ve been thinking about, and it’s not supposed to devalue what Cain’s just done. Cain is an excellent pitcher and he pitched an excellent game.

    That said, the last five guys to throw perfect games are:

    1. One almost-surefire Hall-of-Famer.
    2. One excellent pitcher.
    3. A guy who has washed out of the league.
    4. A guy pitching for the Astros in AAA.
    5. Phil Humber.

    So if you took Halladay, Cain, Humber, Braden and Galarraga and offered them to all 30 teams in place of their rotation, which ones take it? Assume the Phils and Giants get to keep “their” Halladay and Cain.

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    • question says:

      Cain seems to be getting better every year and he’s only 27 – in a month he should be going to his 3rd All-Star Game, was on a World Series winning team (and gave up 0 ER in 21 IP), now has a perfect game, and has notably suffered from poor run support until now. in other words i think there’s an outside chance (10-15%?) he ends up a Hall of Famer.

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    • question says:

      also, Dallas Braden is injured, not a washout.

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      • CJ says:

        I agree that Cain is as likely as any 27 year old to get in, but his being 27 is what tempered me from saying it. Even Average Joe HoFer had an excellent career into their 30s, and Cain’s a pitcher. There were too many good young players that weren’t to start anointing him.

        Apologies to Dallas Braden. I remember he was not especially good and I saw he pitched 18 innings in 2011.

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    • adohaj says:

      But Galarraga DID NOT pitch a perfect game.

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  24. MadMonk says:

    very nice. thanks. get ready for another perfection today. :)

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