SAN FRANCISCO Dave Righetti is a pitching coach. He teaches his starters and relievers how to harness their stuff.
He knows something about the stuff inside, too. And this is his window into Matt Cain:
You know you can count on him, Righetti said. In this game, thats what were all about.
Two years ago, when Jonathan Sanchez became the first Giant in 33 years to throw a no-hitter, Righetti found a quiet moment in the coaches locker room and let slip a few tears. Righetti was a sometimes-erratic left-hander during his career. Hed thrown a no-hitter. He knew what it meant.
The emotions were so similar for Matt Cain on Wednesday, and yet, so different. This wasnt just a no-hitter he threw in the Giants 10-0 victory over the Houston Astros. This was perfection. This was immortality.
Nobody identifies with that. You simply stand in awe of it.
Now theyre all in the group, but this is a different group, Righetti said. A perfect game, thats a big deal man.
Its a big deal no matter how diluted the accomplishment has become in recent years. There have been 22 perfect games in baseball history. Exactly two featured as many as 14 strikeouts. And youll hear it so often: Sandy Koufaxs start against the Cubs, on Sept. 9, 1965 was, in the eyes of many, the greatest nine innings ever pitched.
Cain matched it. With a snap-back fastball and an unchanging demeanor and a disappearing changeup and a perfect cadence with catcher Buster Posey, Cain matched it.
A career 76-75 pitcher due so much more, Cain received his gift on a midweek night game in June against a Houston Astros lineup that does not have sharp teeth but is perfectly capable of breaking the skin. It came on his sixth attempt at taking a no-hitter as deep as the seventh inning. It came on the 107th anniversary of a Christy Mathewson no-hitter for the New York Giants.
Nobody not Mathewson, not Carl Hubbell, not Juan Marichal or Gaylord Perry or Tim Lincecum had thrown a perfect game in a Giants uniform.
Cain, so admired by his teammates, stands alone. And yet he stands together.
It definitely wasnt just me, said Cain, flanked by Posey and right fielder Gregor Blanco, who could have worn a cape and cowl when he saved perfection with his improbable catch in the seventh inning. Running down balls, hitting home runs, making plays, it was an all-around effort tonight.
Everybody did a lot of work and it turned out it turned out perfect.
Even with Cain providing 14 of the 27 outs on his own, he needed Blanco to make his full-extension catch on Jordan Schafer -- a shockingly sensational play that had as much to do with positioning as athleticism. He needed a breath from the gods to knock down Chris Snyders drive in the sixth, which Melky Cabrera caught with a hop at the wall. He needed third baseman Joaquin Arias to make the final play, throwing flat-footed with his weight headed in the wrong direction.
He needed to keep his composure. He needed eight other men to keep theirs, too.
First baseman Brandon Belt: I was going to throw up. I said that to everybody, but I really was. I was about to throw up in the ninth inning.
Manager Bruce Bochy: Just like you, Im a fan. I dont change anything. I stayed in my same place. Im living on every pitch, too, and pulling for him.
Posey: I was as nervous as Ive ever been on a baseball field. Im not gonna lie. Its a different kind of nervousness than the playoffs or the World Series.
Cain: You know what? Honestly I was thinking about it and it felt like the World Series but it also felt a little louder, a little crazier. Every strike, they were going nuts for. It was really amazing. Ive never had that much excitement in every pitch, every strike, every swing.
Nobody could afford to make a mistake. Thats the definition of perfection, isnt it?
Even the golf ball that Cain hit three hours prior to the first pitch, as part of a promotional tie-in with the U.S. Open, was perfectly struck. A little power fade, right into McCovey Cove. For once, a good shot into the drink.
Cain, eager to grip and rip the driver just once, peeked over at Brian Sabean. The GM nodded that he could take a swing. But Sabean turned his head. He couldnt stand to watch.
Makes you wonder if Sabean was able to watch in the ninth inning.
Cain had no option to close his eyes as his car crested the tracks. He was immersed in a conductive roar, standing on his little bump, and those close shaves in the past even the one-hitter that was as fresh as the home opener did not give him anything to draw upon.
Uhh, I mean kinda, Cain said. But not really.
Ive had some opportunities in the past. but theres really nothing like it. You get deep into the game like that, and really even (Blancos) defining play he makes it in the beginning of the seventh inning and Ive still got to get two more outs and the place is going crazy, and I was literally having to recheck myself just to be able to see the signs Buster was putting down because there was so much adrenaline, so much stuff going on. I was in a way probably overthrowing some changeups. I was throwing harder than I wanted to, but it worked out.
It was an enormous run-on sentence. Somehow, Cain punctuated it. The feat required 125 pitches, the most ever thrown in a perfect game. His hardest fastball was 94 mph, and he threw two of them. One was on his 101st pitch of the night.
The other was his last.
Cain saved his best for when he needed it. Thats the difference between the wizened, 27-year-old Cain and the bull in a china closet, as Righetti described him, when he broke into the big leagues.
Cains 14 strikeouts were a career high. His previous high was 12, set as a 21-year-old in 2006.
I mean, back then, that was, Im gonna try to throw it as hard as possible and hope nobody hits it, Cain said. Now, I feel at times, well, Ive tried to do that. I want to be able to throw the ball as hard as I can. But I think Im more relaxed and have more of an idea for my mechanics and what my body is doing. Im able to control myself a little more than where I was when I was 21. Its just maturing.
But, Righetti said, The determination is still the same. The same guy still sits there. You see him on game day, just so calm. Hes that way. He always has been.
And yet also so competitive. When Cain batted in the eighth inning, his mind electrified with thoughts, he didnt lay the bat on his shoulder as any sane pitcher would, and hope for a moments peace on the bench to collect his thoughts. He took a rip at the first pitch.
I dont know, said Cain, unblinking. Im looking to try to get a hit there. Its something I want to do.
Righetti understood why.
Didnt he go up there his last time and swing out of his ass? Righetti said. Hed already got one (hit), and Bumgarner went deep the night before. And Bum struck out 12, so Cain had to get more than that. Thats what peer pressure does. It does wonderful things.
All of the wonder reached its crescendo after 1 a.m. on the East Coast. Its the second perfecto of the season, after Philip Humber of the White Sox. Maybe Cains achievement wont resonate on a national level the way it otherwise might.
Will Cain get the recognition he deserves? In a way, Righetti said, he already has.
You shouldve seen it at the All-Star Game last year, Righetti said. All the other pitchers want to talk to him, which is the fun part. You see the respect he gets from those guys.
Righetti thought back to that home opener, and that lone hit by Pirates pitcher James McDonald.
Whatd he say? He felt bad about it. Didnt he say that? Now how do you say that? Some guys are, Im glad I did it.
So in a sense, hes getting plenty of recognition in our game.
Players know good stuff when they see it.