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 get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

SAN FRANCISCO — Over in Cleveland earlier Friday, Brandon Moss hit a three-run homer for the visiting team and five other players chipped in a pair of hits. The Royals had six runs, which meant that when Jim Johnson closed the Giants out a few hours later, what has seemed true all season became officially true. The Giants have the lowest-scoring lineup in the majors.

At 3.32 runs per game, they have dipped below the equally-disappointing Royals (3.38). They are capable at the moment of making any pitching staff look dominant. A 2-0 shutout was the first of the year for the Braves, who previously had just two games this season where they allowed fewer than two runs. 

“Six runs in (the last) four games … I thought we would come home and get some rips in tonight, but it didn’t happen,” Bruce Bochy said. 

The manager’s frustration showed late in this one. After the only rally of the game — a two-run single by opposing pitcher Jaime Garcia — Bochy took his cap off and rubbed his forehead. He dipped his head and briefly stood as if he was going to fall asleep on the rail. The bats were equally still. 

The Giants had just four hits, all of them singles against Garcia, who is a nice pitcher but hardly one of the league’s best. One was an infield single by Eduardo Nuñez, another a single through Garcia’s five-hole, and a third a generous ruling by the official scorekeeper. 

“It comes down to, you’ve got to get some hits and create opportunities, and we’re not doing it very often,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of guys getting somewhat hot. We did, we had some success, and we won some games. The thing you like to see is some good cuts and I didn’t think we got enough of those tonight.”

That run, which spanned the last homestand and small parts of two road trips, has come to a screeching halt. The Giants have lost five of six. It seems silly to scoreboard-watch in May, especially when a team is playing like this, but it’s worth noting that the teams the Giants eventually need to catch keep winning. They fell 12 games back of the Rockies and 11 back of the streaking Diamondbacks. They are 9 1/2 back of the Dodgers, who might be the best team in the whole league. 

Matt Cain did his part to allow the Giants to keep pace. He got beat just once in seven sharp innings. The Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, who bounced a single into left. Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw was short and hit the runner. A second run scored. 

“That’s tough,” Cain said. “(Garcia) was throwing the ball really good and that’s what it comes down to, you’re looking for that one hit and he did it. He’s a good hitter. We’ve seen it in St. Louis. But it definitely is tough when the pitcher does that … it just stinks on my part to give up a hit to the opposing pitcher.”

Instant Analysis: Giants bats silenced, losing streak now at four games

Instant Analysis: Giants bats silenced, losing streak now at four games

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The return to AT&T Park was a huge boost to Matt Cain, who has wild home-road splits this season, but it did predictable things to an already-limp Giants offense. 

The Giants entered the night as the lowest-scoring team in the National League and they got blanked 2-0 by Jaime Garcia and the Braves. Garcia out-dueled Cain and provided the only offense of the night, as well. The Giants have dropped five of six.

Here are five things to know from AT&T Park, where they keep having Star Wars Night but they’ve never once celebrated Super Troopers … 

--- Cain entered the seventh with a 0.94 ERA at home this season, but the opposing pitcher busted him. With one on and two outs, the Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, a career .145 hitter. He bounced a single into shallow left and it looked like Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw home hit the runner. That allowed Swanson to race home for a 2-0 lead. 

--- Cain’s final line: seven innings, one earned run, one walk, three strikeouts. Yep, that’s a Caining.

--- Justin Ruggiano is here for the opportunity he was given in the sixth. Ruggiano has always crushed lefties, and Bruce Bochy put him behind Buster Posey on Friday night. The Braves intentionally walked Posey to load the bases for Ruggiano, who grounded out to third. Even the platoon splits are failing the Giants. 

--- If you need a little perspective on Christian Arroyo’s struggles, look across the field. Swanson, the former No. 1 overall pick, is batting .198. The shortstop slashed .302/.361/.442 as a rookie but his numbers are way down across the board, and he’s nearly two years older than Arroyo. These things take time. Having said that, Arroyo’s hole is pretty deep. He’s hitless in his last 21 at-bats after an 0 for 3.

--- There were three no-pitch intentional walks. I hope you used the extra ninety seconds wisely.