After nearly throwing a perfect game in the San Francisco Giants' home opener this year, Matt Cain accomplished the amazing feat on Wednesday night. Retiring 27 Houston Astros in a row, Cain recorded the 22nd perfect game in major league history and the first ever for the San Francisco Giants.
Cain was simply masterful, changing speeds and location with multiple pitches. Cain finished with 14 strikeouts, matching Sandy Koufax as the last pitcher to record at least 14 strikeouts while pitching a perfect game.
Asked after the game what it meant to be mentioned in the same sentence as Koufax, Cain talked about what an honor it was to be brought up in the same sentence with the Dodger legend.
Cain was also asked at what point in the game did he start to allow the thought of a perfect game to enter into his mind:
I know if I haven’t given up a hit in the first or the second inning, I’m always kind of conscious of it, but I felt like the first time through the lineup I felt like something could happen.
Cain struck out five of the nine batters the first time through the lineup and was clearly dealing.
As with most no-hitters and perfect games, Cain was also the recipient of some great defensive plays and bit of good fortune.
Leading off the fourth inning and facing Cain for the second time, Jordan Schafer scorched a ball that screamed down the right field line before heading foul right before hitting first base. An inch or two to the left and that ball kicks off the bag for a leadoff double. Instead, Schafer struck out on 10 pitches, and the perfect game stayed intact.
The second bit of good fortune happened in the sixth inning with one out and Chris Snyder at the plate. Swinging at a first pitch fastball, Snyder crushed a ball to left field that most people in the ball park thought was long gone.
Heading back on the ball, Melky Cabrera followed the trajectory as it started to die in mid-air. Cabrera was able to make the catch at the wall, and the perfect game stayed intact.
I asked manager Bruce Bochy after the game if he thought Snyder’s ball was gone, and he responded immediately “I did, I thought it was gone. I thought he hit it well, and it seemed like it went over and came back.”
Cain echoed Bochy’s comments when asked about Snyder’s ball, saying, “Oh yeah, I thought it was a home run, I think we all did.”
After Snyder’s fly ball, Cain struck out Brian Bixler to end the sixth inning and keep the perfect game intact.
In the seventh inning, Gregor Blanco pulled off the defensive gem of the game, maybe of his career, bringing 41,000 plus ecstatic fans to their feet.
Leading off the inning, Schafer worked the count full and was sitting on a fastball. Cain reached back and threw a 92 mph fastball that Schafer jumped all over and rocketed into the gap in right field.
On his horse from the crack of the bat, Blanco dove at full speed and somehow managed to snare the ball over his shoulder, sliding along the warning track before the wall. Cain’s reaction to Blanco’s catch was very animated tipping his cap mid inning while the crowd stood and cheered. Obviously pumped up, Cain struck out the next two hitters in the seventh to keep the perfect game intact.
While Cain admitted after the game that the tension was as intense, if not more, than the World Series, he also pointed out that the Giants' ability to score a lot of runs, giving him a huge cushion, made it easier for him.
The Giants jumped out to an early lead when Cabrera smashed a two-run home run in the first inning. They added two more in the second inning when Brandon Belt hit another two-run home run, his second in as many nights.
The Giants scored runs in five of the eight innings they batted, multiple runs in four of them, as Cain had a 10-0 lead by the top of the sixth inning.
Even with the lead, the tension was thick, and the ballpark definitely had a playoff atmosphere. Buster Posey, asked after the game about the pressure calling the pitches and catching history, said, “I was as nervous as I’ve ever been on a baseball field.”
Cain, who began to lose some of his pinpoint control in the eighth and ninth inning, was over 100 pitches. While nerves might’ve played a role in his inability to locate as well as earlier in the game, fatigue was also a factor.
After inducing two ground balls and striking out his final hitter of the night in the eighth inning, Cain took the mound in the ninth ready to make history.
With two fly balls to Cabrera in left, Cain faced pinch hitter Jason Castro with two out and one remaining for baseball immortality. On a 1-2 pitch, Cain threw a 94 mph fastball that Castro hit to Joaquin Arias at third base. With a tough hop and a quick throw needed, Arias was able make the play, completing the perfection, and the celebration began.
After the final out, the Giants ran out and mobbed Cain on the mound, and the sellout crowd, seemingly every one of them still there, stood and cheered in admiration.
Improving his record to 8-2 and lowering his ERA to 2.18, Cain continues to quietly put up some of the best numbers for a starting pitcher in the big leagues. Adding a perfect game to his resume, which already includes a World Series title, Cain could be on track for his first Cy Young award.
With the win, Cain has won his last seven starts and has pitched at least six innings in each, and he seems to be getting stronger. He has only allowed two earned runs in his last four starts and has averaged 10 strikeouts a game over his last three starts.
Cain, talking about the feeling of pitching a perfect game, said:
This is incredible right now, it’s starting to settle in right now. Being able to enjoy it with the guys in the clubhouse and enjoy it for a second, that is something that I will never forget.
The quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Mark Probst unless otherwise noted.