Anatomy of perfection: Cain inning by inning

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Anatomy of perfection: Cain inning by inning

SAN FRANCISCO How difficult, how elusive, how magicallyfated is a perfect game?

Consider this: Matt Cain struck out 14 batters on anunforgettable Wednesday night in China Basin. It matched Sandy Koufaxs iconicperformance in 1965 as the most strikeouts in a perfect game in history.

And yet Cain needed so much support, so many breaks, so muchluck and maybe even some angels breath.

Here is how it happened, inning by inning:

First inning: 11 pitches.

Cain likes to establish his fastball early and it was clearhe had plenty of late movement and cut and pinpoint control as he threwfour of them to strike out Jordan Schafer. He went fastball-curve-fastball tostrike out Jose Altuve. Jed Lowrie hit a foul pop.

Second inning: 12 pitches.

Before it became edge-of-the-seat stuff., Cain faced hisfirst three-ball count of the evening. Brett Wallace, a play in the Moneyballmold, fouled off a 3-1 fastball. Cain hadnt thrown either of his first twochangeups in the strike zone, but Buster Posey called for one. Wallace swungthrough it.

Third inning: 17 pitches.

Cain began to find a groove with his changeup and slider.Snyder and pitcher J.A. Happ took called third strikes on fastballs thatsnapped back across the zone. Umpire Ted Barrett was giving him the black, aspitchers call it. Cain had gone through the lineup once. Even at this earlyjuncture, he could sense he had it within himself to no-hit the Astros.

Fourth inning: 22 pitches

Schafer worked Cain for a 10-pitch at-bat that included fivetwo-strike fouls including one that came within a millimeter, as firstbaseman Brandon Belt saw it, of being a double down the line. Replays wereinconclusive; Belt said it definitely hit in front of the bag and was hookingsharply. Umpire Mike Muchlinski called it foul and Cain, now operating with afour-run lead after two-run homers by Melky Cabrera and Belt, stayedaggressive. He only threw one ball among the 10 pitches to Schafer, who finallyswung through a fastball. Little Jose Altuve, all 5-foot-5 of him, didnt getany breaks on the zone. Barrett rang him up on a third strike above theletters.

Fifth inning: 14 pitches
Two more strikeouts. One ball in play, to second basemanRyan Theriot. Moving along

Sixth inning: 10 pitches

With 76 pitches through five innings, Cain needed an economyframe. He got it here. Bruian Bogusevic took a fastball for a third strike,then Snyder flied out to left field on the first pitch. And what a fly out itwas. The ball was crushed to left field but appeared to hang in the cool nightair, and left fielder Melky Cabrera jumped at the wall as he made the catch.Said center fielder Angel Pagan: I had the best view. The ball wasnt goingout. It was out. Then it cut back. That ball was 10 rows deep. I've never seen that before, a ball come back like that. Once I saw that playCain received another contribution from catcher Posey, who blocked acurveball that struck out pinch hitter Brian Bixler. Posey threw to first basefor the out. Remember, it isnt perfect unless its a no-reach game.
Seventh inning: 17 pitches

For the first time since the second inning, and just thesecond time in the game, Cain went to a three-ball count. He missed with acurve and fastball before coming back with another that broke right toSchafers barrel. Gregor Blanco, who had shifted toward the gap on Schafer,raced back to the track in right-center nearly 410 feet from home plate andleft his feet while making a catch at the track that nobody could believe. AsCain later asked him, What were you even doing there? Now, much like Aaron Rowandscatch in Jonathan Sanchezs no-hitter in 2010, history appeared to be the workof fate. But those final seven outs wouldnt come easily. Cain missed on aslider to run the count full against Lowrie, then came back with his hardestfastball of the night on his 101st pitch -- at 94 mph. Lowriefouled it off. Posey had the guts to call for a changeup and Cain didnthesitate, throwing one that was written in disappearing ink as it flutteredpast Lowries swing.

Eighth inning: 11 pitches

In the seventh, Giants manager Bruce Bochy took PabloSandoval out, inserted Brandon Crawford at shortstop and moved Joaquin Arias tothird base. An inning before that, he substituted Emmanuel Burriss at secondbase for Theriot. The earlier move was designed to give Theriot a rest and getBurriss some playing time in a blowout game. But the changes in the seventh hadperfection in mind. They paid off in the eighth, as Martinez hit a slow rollerthat Arias charged and threw accurately on the run. Next came another three-ballcount. It was Wallace again, who didnt bite on two 1-2 sliders. Cain came backwith his simplest, best pitch a challenge fastball and Wallace shook hishead after Barrett hit the cash register. With Cain just four outs away, ChrisJohnson hit a tricky, topspin hopper to short. It was the kind of ball that hadeaten up Crawford so many times in April and early May, and he was cold off thebench. But he backed up to make sure he wasnt caught in between hops, thenmade a clean pickup, transfer and throw.

Ninth inning: 11 pitches

This was it. It was real, all of it. Bochy didnt dare put areliever on the bullpen mound, but he had Shane Loux secretly warming up in thebatting cage, ready to enter the moment Cain gave up a hit. That did nothappen. Bogusevic lifted a 2-2 fastball to left field. Cabrera raced over tocatch it near the line. Snyder lifted a 1-0 fastball. Cabrera barely had tomove to catch it. Pinch hitter Jason Castro was last. Cain worked the count inhis favor, 1-2. Then he threw one final fastball on his 125th pitch again, at 94 mph, matching his hardest of the night. Castro almost slapped itout of Poseys glove. Arias was there to field it, and he appeared to nearlylose his balance. Finally, he set his feet just enough, and with his body stillfalling away from first base, he fired the throw of his life that hit Beltsglove on a line. It was instant euphoria. It was history. It was the 22ndperfect game in baseball history, and the first by a Giant in the franchises129-year existence.

Cains first reaction, to Bochy, was This is stupid.

Sweetly, blessedly, unforgettably stupid.

Giants spring training Day 15: Arroyo picks up where he left off

Giants spring training Day 15: Arroyo picks up where he left off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants do not expect Christian Arroyo, their top hitting prospect, to get a lot of at-bats in a camp filled with veteran infielders. But the 21-year-old continues to make the most of every opportunity he gets. 

Arroyo hit a scorching single to left in his first at-bat Monday. When he came up with the bases loaded in the seventh, he poked a single into right, tying the game. Arroyo grounded out in his final at-bat, ending his perfect run this spring. With three hits in his first four at-bats down here, Arroyo is now 17-for-30 in three springs in big league camp.

“It’s the same (thing) he did last spring,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s getting great at-bats and playing well at shortstop. In the early go here, he’s playing the kind of ball that he was last spring. His mechanics are very solid. It’s a good foundation, good balance, and he doesn’t try to do too much. The bat stays in the zone a long time and he uses the whole field well. He’s a good hitter. He’s only going to hit for more power. The power is going to come, too.”

A move to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League should help. No matter what Arroyo does this spring, the Giants will send him to Triple-A if their 40-man guys are healthy. But Arroyo’s time is coming, and it’s coming soon. 

For more on Arroyo, here’s a feature I wrote about him last week. Here’s more from the first day of the third week of spring training … 

GAME RECAP: The Giants will not go undefeated this season. They lost to the A’s for the 124th consecutive time in the Cactus League, this time by a score of 5-4 … Michael Morse got the first hit of his comeback attempt. His pinch-hit single up the middle in the seventh drove in a run. In the eighth, he lined a two-strike single to right … Brandon Belt hit his first homer of the spring. It was the 24th of his spring training career. You can see it here … Bochy was impressed with Jose Dominguez, who struck out one in a scoreless inning. 

STOCK WATCH: Orlando Calixte played right field, after previously seeing time at short and second this spring. “He’s intriguing,” Bochy said. “He showed the arm off in right field. He’s a good shortstop and plays second and third. He’s a good athlete.” The Giants plan to carry five outfielders, but if none of the right-handed bats break through, they could always carry Calixte as a super-utility guy. Remember, he’s on the 40-man roster. 

CUETO UPDATE: The co-ace still is not in big league camp, or on the way. Here’s the latest on Johnny Cueto. 

TRAINER’S ROOM: This room now belongs to Anthony Reyes, as Dave Groeschner is off to South Korea with Hensley Meulens and Team Netherlands. Will Smith (elbow) threw off flat ground and everything went fine. Eduardo Nuñez (shoulder) will likely resume playing third base later this week.

QUOTABLE: “To have that splitter that out of the hand looks like a heater, for me, that’s huge.” — Jeff Samardzija on a pitch that helped him dominate in September. Here’s more on Samardzija and his plans for 2017. 

 

Samardzija sticking with more versatile approach in second year with Giants

Samardzija sticking with more versatile approach in second year with Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija’s first season in San Francisco was ultimately not far from what the Giants hoped it would be. Samardzija gave them the desired durability, throwing 203 innings with a 3.81 ERA in 32 starts. 

The route to those final numbers was remarkably circuitous. Samardzija had a 2.84 ERA through the season’s first two months, but that number jumped all the way up to 6.23 over his next 11 starts, seven of them losses for the team. As the Giants went into a second-half tailspin, Samardzija found his groove and helped keep them in the playoff race. He had a 2.45 ERA over his final 10 starts, earning the nod as the Game 2 starter in the NLDS. That appearance against the Cubs lasted just two innings. 

The up-and-down season showed the Giants two very different versions of a big offseason acquisition, and at times opposing hitters saw two very different Samardzijas. He went heavy on his cutter early, but when hitters started teeing off on pitches that all came in at a somewhat similar velocity, Samardzija mixed in a curveball that was completely mothballed through June. Down the stretch, when he found his form, Samardzija brought back his splitter and ignored the cutter. He threw 165 cutters in April but just two in September. On the flip side, he threw 113 splitters in September after never throwing more than 35 the first five months. 

“He found the splitter and using it more made him more of a complete pitcher,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got the four (main) pitches now. They can’t just sit on the hard stuff. He had a good year. It was a little bump there, but he had a great run and was throwing the ball really well (down the stretch). He’s one of our guys. We certainly think (that deal) is going to pay off, and it did last year. He got us deep into games consistently.”

Samardzija learned from the up-and-down year, and during his first start of the spring, he varied the repertoire. He gave up two runs in the first inning but was pleased with a curveball he threw four times — twice for called strikes, twice for foul balls. 

“If you can get it going here in Arizona, it’s going to be a pretty solid pitch for you,” he said. “(Bringing it back last year) was kind of out of necessity. I picked it up and played around with it and it felt good.”

The curveball, which he hadn't thrown since 2012, changed eye levels last season and kept hitters from loading up on pitches in the low to mid 90s. Samardzija further expanded the velocity gap by finding the feel of a splitter that had toyed with him for years.

“For me, with that splitter coming back late in the year, it’s going to be about mixing it in and seeing what feels good on that day, seeing what’s going to be the out pitch,” he said. “I had been chasing (the feel) of it since 2014. We broke it all the way back down and went back to zero. So many guys were sitting fastball. To have that splitter that out of the hand looks like a heater, for me, that’s huge.”

The Giants expect the more varied approach to lead to big results in 2017, and Samardzija could subtly benefit from a change Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti made. Samardzija will pitch behind left-hander Matt Moore, not Johnny Cueto. He said he would often last season compare notes with Cueto, who like Samardzija, pitched most of his career in the NL Central. The two would often take a similar approach on the mound.

“(Opponents will) have to face a tough lefty like Moore, so they can’t have that same lineup two days in a row,” Samardzija said. “To me, that’s big.”