Praising Cain! Giant perfect game a gem

June 13th, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- The power of Matt Cain's right arm paved the path he took Wednesday night. Fate and the Giants' defense -- highlighted by a remarkable diving catch by Gregor Blanco in the seventh inning -- provided dramatic turns on his journey to perfection.

Cain pitched the first perfect game in the Giants' rich, 130-year history, a 10-0 decision over the Houston Astros that equaled a hallowed statistical standard and generated sheer entertainment.

Cain distinguished the 22nd perfect game in Major League history by striking out 14 batters, matching Sandy Koufax's total against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 9, 1965, for the most in a perfect game.

"You get put in any sentence with Sandy Koufax, it's tremendous," Cain said.

Cain rewrote many other paragraphs. He threw the second perfect game in the Majors this year, duplicating Philip Humber's April 21 gem for the Chicago White Sox. Cain needed 125 pitches, the most ever thrown in a perfect game, to complete his effort.

Cain's was the fifth no-hitter this season in the Majors, the 14th in Giants annals and the sixth since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958. Jonathan Sanchez authored San Francisco's last no-hitter on July 10, 2009, against San Diego.

Greatness had been long been predicted for Cain, 27. During his first invitation to big league Spring Training, then-Giants manager Felipe Alou likened him to Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. Cain nursed no-hitters into the seventh inning five previous times in his career, suggesting that someday he would push the boulder over the other side of the hill. His three one-hit shutouts and the 21 1/3 innings he pitched in the 2010 postseason without allowing an earned run furthered the notion that he could someday accomplish something even more singular.

So as Cain approached baseball nirvana, he allowed himself to absorb the excitement he was creating at AT&T Park.

"It felt like the World Series," Cain said, "but it almost felt a little bit louder, a little crazier. Every strike [the spectators] were going nuts for. It was really amazing. I've never had that much excitement, every pitch, every strike, every swing."

Indeed, all the records and trivia stemming from Cain's feat pale alongside the compelling 27-out sequence that unfolded.

Cain, who exceeded his personal single-game strikeout standard by two and finished two short of Jason Schmidt's franchise mark, retired at least one Astros hitter on strikes in every inning but the ninth.

"His fastball was really jumping tonight," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "It had extra life on it."

The possibility of attaining something special teased Cain almost from the outset. He threw first-pitch strikes to the first six Astros he faced and 19 overall.

"I know if I haven't given up a hit in the first inning or second inning. I'm always kind of conscious of it," he said. "I felt like probably the first time through the lineup that I had good stuff and I was locating the ball where I wanted. ... Probably the first time through the lineup I felt like something could happen."

But though Cain (8-2) dominated the Astros while winning his seventh consecutive start, he needed a little luck.

With one out in the sixth inning, Houston's Chris Snyder lifted a towering drive to left field that appeared destined to clear the wall for a home run. Thousands in the crowd felt the same way, exclaiming "Ohhhhhh" in unison. But Melky Cabrera, moving to his left, reached up and grabbed the ball a step in front of the barrier.

"I had the best view, I guess," Giants center fielder Angel Pagan said. "That ball went out. It was out."

Pagan added that the ball took what he described as a "banana cut," spinning like a boomerang back into play before settling into Cabrera's glove.

"That ball was 10 rows out," Pagan said. "It was something I've never seen before. ... There's a lot of wind going on in this ballpark. You never know what the wind is doing. You have to check every pitch every at-bat."

Jordan Schafer then led off the seventh by launching a 3-2 pitch to the right-center-field gap. Blanco, the Giants' right fielder, kept pace with the ball until lunging for it immediately in front of the warning track. Fully outstretched, Blanco made the catch as he slid on the track, then straightened and triumphantly brandished his gloved right hand. Cain acknowledged Blanco's gem by lifting both arms in celebration.

"That was the defining play," Cain said. "He makes that play at the beginning of the seventh inning, and I've still got to get two more outs and the place was going crazy. I was literally having to recheck myself just to be able to see the signs that Buster was putting down because there was so much adrenaline, so much that was going on."

As the right fielder, Blanco shouldn't have been near Schafer's bid for extra bases. But Blanco revealed that Giants coaches had advised him to position himself closer to the gap for Schafer.

"Everybody kept telling me, 'What are you doing playing like that?'" Blanco said.

Schafer was certain that he had shattered the no-hitter.

"When I hit it, I looked up and saw Pagan and I knew there was no way," Schafer said. "I didn't even look at Blanco."

Said Snyder, "As long as I've been playing in this park -- and back to 2004 I've played here every year -- I've never seen a ball hit like that into that gap and have a play made on it like that. At that point, you think, 'Yeah, it's [Cain's] night.'"

Schafer was involved in another close call. Leading off the fourth inning, he whistled a sharp grounder that skipped over first base. Umpire Mike Muchlinski immediately signaled that the ball was foul, but Houston manager Brad Mills argued the ruling.

"I know the camera angles probably weren't the best on it, but from my angle [it was fair]," Mills said. "That's what I saw and that's why I went out there."

Plagued by poor run support earlier in his career, Cain received an excess of offense as the Giants scored in each of the first five innings and chased Houston starter J.A. Happ (4-7). Cabrera, Brandon Belt and Blanco each delivered two-run homers as San Francisco amassed the most runs ever scored in a perfect game.

"The guys did a great job of being able to make it, in a way, kind of relaxing for me, because they were able to get on the board early and keep scoring runs," Cain said.

Manager Bruce Bochy did what he could to help Cain with a flurry of defensive substitutions. Emmanuel Burriss replaced Ryan Theriot at second base, primarily just to get playing time. Bochy also installed regular shortstop Brandon Crawford in the seventh inning. Joaquin Arias, who started at short to give Crawford a rest, moved to third base while Pablo Sandoval left the game.

"The last two or three innings, I was going to put the best defense out there," Bochy said.

In case Cain yielded a hit, Bochy also had right-hander Shane Loux warming up in the subterranean batting cage adjacent to the Giants dugout. Bochy correctly reasoned that keeping Loux out of sight would prevent the fans from starting a mutiny.

Cain's longest no-hit bid lasted 7 2/3 innings. But he easily surmounted that eighth-inning hurdle this time. He retired J.D. Martinez on a first-pitch grounder to third base, slipped a called third strike past Brett Wallace on a 3-2 pitch and coaxed Chris Johnson's grounder to shortstop on a 2-1 offering.

The delirious, expectant crowd stood and roared for Cain as he strode to the mound for the ninth inning, having thrown 114 pitches. Players from both teams crowded at the railings of their respective dugouts, straining to witness the conclusion.

Brian Bogusevic lifted a 2-2 pitch to left field that Cabrera caught as he crossed into foul territory. Snyder swung at a 1-0 pitch and flied out to left, coming nowhere near a home run this time.

Cain's final obstacle was pinch-hitter Jason Castro, who took a strike, a ball and another strike as the cheering grew. Finally Castro swung and grounded to third base. The ball took what Cain called a "funky" hop. But Arias stayed with the ball, fielded it and flung it across the diamond to first baseman Belt in time.

Posey sped to the mound and administered a bone-crushing embrace upon Cain, who raised his left arm in triumph. They were soon engulfed by the rest of the Giants. Moments later, Cabrera emptied the contents of one of the dugout water containers upon Cain, who had no desire to leave the field. Other teammates followed with the customary beer shower.

After the celebrations had ended, Giants president and chief executive officer Larry Baer pondered Cain's significance. He's the longest-tenured Giant, having been promoted to the Majors in late August 2005. He's the team's player representative. He signed a six-year, $127.5 million contract extension in April.

"As far as I'm concerned, he's the perfect person to throw the [franchise's] first perfect game," Baer said. "He obviously knows what it means to be a Giant. He's going to be around here forever with the long-term contract. He's just kind of the heart and soul of this clubhouse."

He's the master of the mound as well.