Among San Francisco Giants pitchers, today Matt Cain stands alone.
The veteran pitcher turned just another night in the ballpark into a historic feat for the Giants franchise when he pitched the first perfect game of the organization’s 129-year history at San Francisco’s AT&T Park on Wednesday.
For nine innings, Cain and the Giants’ defense prevented the Houston Astros from scoring any hits or putting any runners on base at all, shutting out the Astros 10-0.
The Giants’ perfect game is only the 22nd in Major League Baseball history.
The 27-year-old Cain exceeded his previous career high of 12 strikeouts with 14 on Wednesday, the most strikeouts in a perfect game since 1965, when the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax threw 14 strikeouts in a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs.
Several close calls nearly prevented perfection, but a right field against-the-wall catch by Melky Cabrera in the sixth inning and particularly a diving catch by Gregor Blanco in the seventh inning kept the Astros’ hit count at 0.
The two catches were the first plays that Cain mentioned while speaking at the stadium after the game. “Obviously we can talk about the sixth inning and the seventh inning, those two unbelievable catches right there, that changes the whole thing,” Cain said.
As the game progressed, the crowd at the stadium grew louder with every strike and every out, while desperately trying to avoid uttering the words “no hitter” or “perfect game” for fear of jinxing the achievement.
“When Blanco makes that catch in center field I literally felt everyone on the mound with me. The whole stadium was electric,” Cain said after the game.
Catcher Buster Posey also credited Blanco’s diving catch as the turning point in the game, and the moment that he knew perfection was possible.
“Out there I was the most nervous I’ve ever been on a baseball field, because I knew after Blanco made that catch we had a good shot at it,” Posey said after the game.
Cain said that Posey’s calls were instrumental in keeping the perfect game alive as well, and said that he threw every pitch the young catcher called.
“I didn’t question once what he was calling,” Cain said.
Finally, the game ended with a grounder by Jason Castro to third baseman Joaquin Arias, who managed to get the throw to first baseman Brandon Belt just in time for the third out, instantly immortalizing Cain’s place in history.
Belt immediately ran for the mound after making the out, along with the rest of the Giants team, jubilantly celebrating with as much enthusiasm as when they won the World Series in 2010.
Cain was given plenty of breathing room by Giants runs in each of the first five innings, leaving the team with a 10-run lead by the bottom of the fifth.
Cabrera, Belt and Blanco each hit two-run home runs, and Cain himself even scored one of the final runs of the game, driven home by Blanco’s home run to right field in the fifth inning.
Cain said the big lead helped keep him confident on the mound, and told the crowd after the game that because of the “huge run support” he was “able to pitch comfortably.”
But by the final innings, the string of hits and home runs was a distant memory for many fans as they anxiously awaited the outcome of the potentially historic moment in the making, each swing silencing the crowd, and every ground ball or pop fly eliciting a worried groan.
Their fears proved unfounded, however, as Cain left the mound in a crowd of his teammates, triumphant, having achieved what only 21 Major League pitchers had before him, and none in a Giants uniform.
Scott Morris, Bay City News
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