Matt Cain threw a perfect game Wednesday night, the first one in the 128-year history of the Giants franchise. Just moments after the game ended, Dave Cameron provided some historical context on Cain’s pitching performance, looking at the highest GameScores in baseball history. I’ve had a bit more time for reflection.
If you read my posts regularly, you know I’m a Giants fan. A passionate, analytical, demanding Giants fan. I watch or listen to nearly every game. I pore over numbers and charts. I conjure trades and free-agent signings, and despair when they don’t come to fruition. I complain about lineups and bullpen usage and Brandon Belt not getting enough playing time. Yes, a lot of complaining about Brandon Belt. You do the same for your favorite team. We love baseball. We love our team. It’s what we do.
I watched the game at home with my kids. It’s summer time and they’re out of school, so the “no TV during dinner” rule is relaxed. Good thing. Cain threw the first pitch at 7:15 p.m. and before I could say “finish your vegetables, kids” the top of the first was over. Strikeout. Strikeout. Pop up. Nothing unusual. Cain’s pitched very well this season and he typically has easy first innings. Tonight was no different.
The Giants scored two in the bottom of the first off a home run by Melky Cabrera. Brandon Belt doubled the score in the second with another two-run shot. It was Belt’s second home run of the season. The first came in Tuesday night’s game, on his last at-bat of the game. The buzz on the broadcast and on twitter focused on the sudden power surge for the Giants. Before Tuesday’s game, the Giants had played 16 consecutive home games without hitting a home run.
By the end of the second, the Giants led 5-0. In the post-Bonds years, the Giants haven’t played many games with an early lead, much less a 5-run lead in the third. Especially when Matt Cain is on the mound. In Cain’s 216 career regular-season starts before the perfect game, the Giants had scored 5 or more runs in the game only 68 times.
The lead grew to 7-0 after three innings and to 8-0 after four. It was time to clean up from dinner and start getting the kids to bed. No worries. I’d watch an inning or two on Gameday and come back to the broadcast. But that didn’t happen. I stood at the sink, filled to brim with dirty dishes, and watched Cain pitch. 30 minutes later, I hadn’t moved an inch.
The fastball was zipping. The change-up was darting. And the curve was curving. Cain’s motion looked effortless. Every pitch seemed to have a little extra on it.
Indeed, they did. The average velocities on his two-seamer (91.4), his four-seamer (91.6), his curve (78.3) and his change-up (86.2) were the highest of the season. More than one mile per hour faster on each pitch, as compared to the Giants’ home opener, when Cain pitched a one-hitter, facing only one batter over the minimum.
I was mesmerized.
“Mommy, I need you,” sobbed my 8-year-old. “I need you upstairs. Now.”
My daughter loves the Giants and loves Matt Cain but on this night, her focus was on the play she’ll be performing in on Friday. “I can’t remember all the lines to the songs I have to sing. We don’t have enough time. It’s too much pressure.” As she lay on the floor of her room in tears, I toggled back and forth between Gameday on my iPad and twitter on my phone. Gameday’s reporting of Chris Snyder’s flyout to left fielder Melky Cabrera in the top of the 6th became “Oh wow! What a catch by Melky” on twitter.
“It’s too much pressure,” she repeated.
“You want to know pressure?!?!” I thought. “Matt Cain’s pitching a perfect game through six innings. That’s pressure!”
But that’s not what I said.
I sat quietly on the floor with her, holding her in my arms. I thought about what it means to feel pressure, about wanting to do your very best. I thought about how an 8-year-old deals with that. I thought about how Matt Cain has dealt with it since becoming a Giant in 2005: with quiet strength, calmness, humor, and dignity. I wondered what Matt Cain was like as an 8-year-old. I wondered if he’d ever thrown himself on the floor after a Little League game, in tears and frustration.
I wondered what was going on in the game.
I missed Gregor Blanco’s spectacular catch in the top of the 7th. (I’ve since made up for that by watching the replay 7,382 times. You can start now, here.) By the time I got my daughter in and out of the bath, she’d stopped crying, it was the 8th inning, and my heart was beating out of my chest.
I was lucky enough to be at AT&T Park for Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter in 2009. I was there when Bonds hit 660. I was there for every home game of the 2010 postseason, save for one. I know how that ballpark feels when something special is happening. I felt it. I knew it.
When Joaquin Arias fielded the grounder to third off the bat of Bay Area-native Jason Castro with two outs in the ninth, I held my breath. Arias moved back on the ball and to his right, throwing off his back foot. The throw seemed to take forever to land in Brandon Belt’s glove at first. But land there, it did.
And then the tears. The sobbing, uncontrollable tears. Not my daughter’s, but mine.
“Why are you crying, Mommy?”
“Matt Cain threw a perfect game,” I said. “Do you know how hard that is to do? Do you know how rare it is?”
“I want to be perfect on Friday,” she said.
Don’t we all.