Before Matt Cain made history last night, before he tied Sandy Koufax’s record for most strikeouts in a perfect game, before he tossed a fastball for the 125th and final pitch, the most recorded by a pitcher in a perfecto, he was almost perfect.
The first time, he flirted with a no-hitter against the Athletics at the ripe old age of 21. The Giants were sunk at the bottom of the NL West in mid-May, facing the second-place Athletics with just half a game difference between them. On May 21, 2006, his bid for a perfect game dissolved as quickly as the 3rd inning, when Jay Payton drove a double past Randy Winn to right field. Further unraveling the no-no, Cain then issued back-to-back walks to Jason Kendall and Nick Swisher, loading the bases before inducing a groundout from Mark Kotsay. One walk followed in the 5th, and from then on, Cain was flawless. He finished the game with 120 pitches and just 5 strikeouts.
It was four years before Cain attempted another no-hitter. On May 28, 2010, before the Giants had any inkling of the championship run to follow, the Diamondbacks came to town. This time, Matt blew through only five batters before Mark Reynolds launched a double over the head of Nate Schierholtz. Through the next seven innings, Reynolds would become the second and final baserunner for the D-backs, on a fastball that struck just inches above his elbow. As he had in 2006, Cain kept a perfect game following the 5th inning, completing his performance with 122 pitches and 9 strikeouts.
Cain would record one more one-hitter before yesterday’s game, a nearly perfect home opener against the Pirates in April 2012. In the 6th inning, around the time when you first start to believe in the possibility of perfection, opposing starter James McDonald lined a gapper to Melky Cabrera, demoting Cain’s perfect game to a shutout. Through nine innings, he recorded 11 strikeouts on 106 pitches, his lowest pitch count of the three one-hit performances.
Not to be overlooked is the Giants’ offense in each of these games. Although yesterday’s 10-run backing was the most run support given in a perfect game, the team managed to pad each of Cain’s near-perfectos, putting up 6 runs in 2006, 5 in 2010, and 5 this April. In 25 hits and 16 runs, only Pablo Sandoval and Aubrey Huff contributed home runs, the rest scoring on a smattering of base hits and productive outs. For his part, Matt Cain went hitless in his 7 PA, reaching base twice on a walk and a bunt to Arizona’s Edwin Jackson.
There is much more I want to say about Matt Cain. There are more praises to be sung, more stats to be admired, and more moments to be replayed. For now, though, all I can say is thank you. Thank you, Matt, for not only pitching the Giants’ first perfect game in franchise history, but for a career that continues to impress and amaze us.