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The first perfect game in Giants history. One-hundred-and-twenty-nine-plus seasons and 19,781 games without a perfect game. It had to be Matt Cain. He could have retired to fight crime yesterday, and he still would have been one of the most legendary pitchers in the history of an ancient franchise. Instead, he keeps adding to the damned legend. And it is so, so glorious.
Retiring 27 Houston Astros in a row on a cool night in a friendly yard doesn’t prove anything, except that a guy with a hammer for an arm and a deep, cool reservoir inside can make baseball history with a little luck and a little help from his fast friends. Line drives to the warning track end up in gloves, squibbers to third end up as outs. So random. The perfect game is a night of loopy, dramatic perfection. But the years and years and years prove Matt Cain’s, well, mattcainness. Tonight wasn’t the proof, it was the reward.
I think it was Duane on the CSN-BA telecast, right at the end of the game, that reminded us that this spring started with a lot of speculation about where Cain would wind up when he became a free agent. Yankees? Red Sox? Dodgers? It was unpleasant, to say the least. Then they signed the big deal to make him the new face of the franchise–he’ll be a Giant through 2017–and everything was OK. And how did Matt respond? By throwing a one-hit shutout on Opening Day. And following that up with tonight’s magnificent performance, one for the ages. This is one cool cat. He’s 27 and he’s The Old Man. The vet. The grizzled champ. The leader. Greg Papa called Tim Lincecum “the rock star,” and that’s apt. Cain’s the horse, they all like to say, and that works, too. He’s the motor. He’s a big diesel that hums a long for half a million miles and never skips a beat or fails to pull a load. You’ll have to forgive the redneck metaphor, I’m deep in a bottle of Tennessee Whiskey (George Dickel No. 12), appropriate stuff to drink when the Tennessee Stud takes the hill. He’s the rhythm section of the band. The re-bar in the concrete. The tough outer casing on those pepperoni sticks that keeps them from going bad.
What was it like to watch Cain’s perfect game in the stands? First, it’s humbling to know we just saw something only 19 other crowds have witnessed since 1900. Second, AT&T Park felt like 2010 again — strangers were high-fiving each other and, for the first time in over a year, the crowd rose to the occasion and became part of the action again.
I say this having watched no other perfect game from start to finish, but I can’t imagine a more nerve-wracking perfect game. Cain was so dominant tonight that it was almost his undoing, odd as it sounds. Nobody was reaching base, but since Cain was racking up the strikeouts — 14, to be exact, he also had a pretty high pitch count going. Through seven innings, Cain was already over 100 pitches on the night, averaging 4.9 pitches per plate appearance. I can’t remember exactly how many times he ran the count full, but every time it happened, I feared it would all end.
“There’s really nothing like it,” Cain said.
He was speaking about tonight, but might as well have been speaking about the entirety of baseball. This will be discussed and debated, and some will certainly point out that Cain faced a poor team. But many have faced teams much worse than this — there are only 22 perfect games in history, and only Sandy Koufax could match Cain’s 14 strikeouts.
Matt Cain, already an All-Star, a beloved Giant and a decorated postseason hero, grooved his name ever deeper into franchise lore. The stoic rock of the staff became the first Giant in the franchise’s 129-year history to throw a perfect game.
You can make the argument that this was the greatest game ever pitched. Of the 22 perfect games in MLB history, only Sandy Koufax matched Cain’s 14 strikeouts. Using the Bill James Game Score method, this ties Koufax and Nolan Ryan’s 16-strikeout, two-walk no-hitter for the second-highest nine-inning score at 101, behind only Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout, one-hitter that scores 105.