I’ll start with a confession. When Jonathan Sanchez threw his no hitter back in July of 2009, I surfed off it somewhere around the 5th inning. “No way is Sanchez going 9 without giving up a hit,” I thought to myself. Wrong. Since then, no matter who’s pitching, if I’m watching and one team doesn’t have any hits, I hang in there. That took me through Dallas Braden’s perfect game in May of 2010. If it hadn’t been for the lesson I learned by surfing off Sanchez, I probably would have surfed off Braden. I mean Dallas Braden, right? Like he’s going to throw a perfect game. Well, he did, and I saw it all.
Wednesday night I was surfing back and forth between a typical Coors Field run fest between the Oakland Athletics and the Colorado Rockies, and the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Houston Astros in San Francisco’s AT&T Park. The Giants game caught my attention. There’s a lot of excitement in San Francisco this weekend. The Olympic Club is hosting the U.S. Open, and the city is putting its best foot forward for the big event. The PGA tour even came to AT&T Park for some pre-game fun.
Well before game time, Matt Cain and a few others took tee shots in the Giants’ ballpark. Cain nailed the drive and put his shot in McCovey Cove – a splash hit, as they call them around here. The Giants’ announcers wondered if it was wise to allow Cain to participate given that he was scheduled to start. Turns out it wasn’t a problem. Besides wanting to watch Cain pitch, I also wanted to check out the performance of Houston’s first baseman Brett Wallace. Wallace is a local NorCal product who has been up and down between AAA and the bigs for the last few years.
Obviously, Wallace wasn’t the story last night. Matt Cain was. His performance was masterful. He recorded a career-high 14 strikeouts, seven swinging and seven looking. He threw 125 pitches, his command was brilliant, and his poise was remarkable. And, as always seems to be the case in a no-hitter or a perfect game, he got some tremendous help from his defense along the way. The key moment came in the top of the 7th. The potential for a special evening was already palpable, and had been since the end of the 5th.
It was then that Giants’ announcer Dave Fleming candidly declared that something special was unfolding at AT&T Park. To start the 7th, Giants right-fielder Gregor Blanco made a spectacular diving catch on the warning track in right center field. The ball was in essence already past him, but somehow Blanco, fully extended and parallel to the ground, hauled it in. The catch robbed Houston’s Jordan Schafer of extra bases. More importantly, it kept the perfect game in play. Schafer was the 19th straight Astro’s hitter to be retired at the hands of Cain.
The Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy also played an important role in allowing history to unfold. Bochy had the foresight to make an important defensive change. He sent Joaquin Arias from short to third to start the seventh inning, and Arias delivered. First, he completed a tough chance in the 8th inning by throwing out J.D. Martinez on the run. And in the bottom of the 9th, with two out, with a count of 1 ball and 2 strikes, with history hanging in the balance, Arias came through again.
Jason Castro smacked a Matt Cain fastball towards third. Arias, who was playing off the line to guard the hole between short and third, moved quickly back and to his right, and fielded the ball on a tough hop. But now Arias was deep at third, nearly on the foul line, and flat-footed. His only chance was to get rid of the ball immediately. And he did. From his flat-footed position, he gunned the ball across the diamond straight into Brandon Belt’s glove, recording the 27th consecutive out. Matt Cain had pitched a perfect game and the celebration began.
I’m not going to go through a list of accomplishments, or offer up a portrait of professionalism, or crunch some hard-earned numbers. All of that would prove what everyone who has followed the San Francisco Giants since Cain, then 20 years old, broke in with the team in 2005 already knows. Simply put, Matt Cain is everything that is good about Major League Baseball. I can’t think of a better candidate to pitch the 1st perfect game for a franchise that is 129 years old. I can’t think of a better candidate to hurl only the 22nd perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball. A perfect night in San Francisco brought to us by one of the game’s greats, by the perfect candidate, Matt Cain.
Jonathan Dyer has been a baseball fanatic since playing Little League in the 1960s, and he’s been following the Oakland A’s since moving to the Bay Area in the late 1970s when he watched Rickey Henderson play for Billy Martin. Dyer, the author of three novels, now brings his long-term perspective to writing about baseball, connecting the modern game to its historic context. You may email Jonathan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @dyer_jp. You can follow his progress on two new novels he’s writing at www.booksbyjonathandyer.webs.com