Matt Cain: 10 Ways Perfect Game Changes the Giants Righty's Career
Matt Cain threw one of the greatest games in the history of baseball just two weeks ago. The Giants have been playing games since that night—moving into a tie for first place with Dodgers on Wednesday—but Cain's career was changed forever on that fateful evening.
While Giants fans and the organization appreciated the greatness of Cain before the perfect game, he was overshadowed in the national media by his teammate, two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. Even though Cain was pitching better than Lincecum this season before the perfect game, most of the media attention was focused on Lincecum's struggles.
The perfect game has shifted the focus away from The Freak and onto Cain. In two weeks, Cain will not only make his third All-Star team, but he is a top candidate to start the game.
Let's take a deeper look at some of the ways June 13, 2012 changed Matt Cain's career forever.
No matter what else happens during the rest of Cain's career, his perfect game will cause his name to resonate forever as long as the Giants franchise exists. His perfect game was just the 22nd ever thrown in baseball history, and it was the first in the storied history of the San Francisco Giants.
His perfect performance will live forever in the memories of Giants fans. Mementos from that night will be enshrined at the Hall of Fame after Cain gave Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson first base, his spikes and hat from the perfect night in a ceremony before Tuesday night's game.
After Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record, Giants announcer Duane Kuiper bellowed, "Bonds stands alone!" On the pitching side of things, Matt Cain will stand alone forever.
Excellent baseball writer Jonah Keri of Grantland wrote an article Wednesday about the best pitchers in baseball. While Keri ultimately opined that Justin Verlander was the best pitcher in the game, he did mention Cain among the elite pitchers in the game.
Before the perfect game, Lincecum would likely have been the Giants pitcher discussed among the best in the business in the national media, despite his struggles so far this season. Post-perfecto, Cain is now firmly in the conversation as to who the best pitcher in baseball is.
Cain will be a candidate to start the All-Star game, and he is currently the front-runner to win the National League Cy Young award this season. The perfect game catapulted him from just a solid starter, into the center of the best-pitchers-in-the-game argument in the minds of many baseball writers.
Matt Cain Day
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee declared that June 13, 2012 will now be Matt Cain Day in San Francisco, while giving Cain a key to the city. Cain not only has the recognition of the national baseball writers, but now he has his own holiday in San Francisco.
When politicians use your fame to get themselves in the spotlight, you are doing something right.
A Pretty Awesome Sword
Sporting goods company Mizuno gave Matt Cain a samurai sword in honor of his perfect game.
What do you get the person who is already worth $120 million, has a World Series ring and a perfect game on his resume?
A sword seems like the best possible gift for Cain, especially since it will impress the interesting cast of characters he shares the locker room with.
The Ace of the Staff
It seems crazy that a guy with a 2.87 ERA over the past three seasons, 21 scoreless innings in the postseason and a World Series ring would be considered anything less than a staff ace.
However, we have become quite spoiled with dominant pitching in San Francisco over the past half-decade. Entering this season, Cain was slotted into the No. 3 slot in the rotation behind Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. After the perfect game, Cain will now be referred to as the staff ace.
If Lincecum reverts to his old ways, they will have to be co-aces like Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were in Arizona. No matter what happens with Lincecum, Cain is worthy of the title of staff ace.
At the end of spring training, Brian Sabean made one of the best moves of his tenure as the general manager of the San Francisco Giants. Sabean inked Cain, a potential free agent at the end of this season, to a six-year, $127.5 million contract extension with a club option for 2018.
Through 15 starts, Cain is striking out one batter per inning while posting a career-low walk rate. In 107 innings pitched, he has allowed only 101 baserunners, leading to a career-low 2.27 ERA. Sabean's decision to extend Cain has saved the Giants millions of dollars and prevented deep-pocketed teams like the Dodgers and Yankees from having a shot at him in free agency.
While Cain's perfect game will not make him more money in free agency because he signed the contract extension that will prevent him from hitting the market until possibly 2019, the perfect game will likely make him extra cash through endorsements.
The Veteran in the Clubhouse
With Aaron Rowand getting released towards the end of last season and Aubrey Huff spending most of this year on the disabled list, the Giants suddenly lack veteran leadership on their squad. Cain is the longest tenured Giant now, and the perfect game firmly entrenches him as the team leader in the clubhouse.
He may be only 27 years old, but with over 1,400 innings of big league experience and a perfect game on his resume, he is wise and accomplished beyond his years.
A Standard of Excellence
Cain's perfect game had to be a huge motivating factor for Tim Lincecum and the rest of the Giants pitching staff. After another rough outing in Seattle, Lincecum has rebounded to throw two straight quality starts in his last two turns through the rotation.
All of a sudden, the Giants pitching staff is looking dominant from top to bottom. After Cain threw seven more strong innings on Sunday against the Oakland A's, Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum followed that up with seven shut-out innings each against the Dodgers this week, propelling the Giants into a first place tie atop the National League West.
The Giants have made up five games in the standings since the perfect game. Perhaps that night will mark the turning point of the season for the Giants.
Brought the Team Together
One of my favorite moments of the perfect game was the celebration after the final out. Watching 25 grown men celebrate the achievement of one of their teammates was a great reminder as to why we invest so much time watching baseball as fans.
The perfect game brought the team together, and it got the fans excited about the possibility of watching this team celebrate more in 2012. Cain is an unselfish teammate who has kept his stoic demeanor despite pitching in the shadows of Lincecum for most of his career, while receiving very little run support from the offense.
The perfect game brought Cain out of the shadows of Lincecum and an oftentimes inept offense that suppressed his win total over the years.
For Cain, that sort of narrative doesn't matter.
He cares about his teammates, and he cares about winning. The perfect game brought the 2012 team together, and that is probably the best aspect of the entire spectacle in Cain's mind.
Credit to the Giants Front Office
The day after the perfect game, I wrote an article giving credit to the Giants front office and coaching staff for drafting, developing and re-signing Cain. Over the past four seasons, no team in all of baseball has allowed fewer runs than the Giants.
The perfect game is a testament to the Giants ability to draft and develop pitching. No team in baseball does a better job of preventing runs than the Giants. They deserve all the credit in the world for drafting Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Jonathan Sanchez (who threw a near-perfect game and brought back Melky Cabrera in a trade this offseason), Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson.
The perfect game will bring more endorsements, recognition and media attention for Cain. It has motivated the rest of the pitching staff, propelled the team into first place and established Cain as the leader of the team.
Perhaps just as importantly, Sabean, his chief lieutenant Dick Tidrow, pitching coach Dave Righetti, manager Bruce Bochy and the Giants' team of scouts will also get more respect for the excellent work they have done building a winner in San Francisco.
The Giants front office and coaching staff don't do a great job of courting the media, but Cain's perfect game is a testament to what they do well.