SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Cain’s humility has always impressed those around him, so it came as no surprise that he gave partial credit for his perfect game -- the Giants’ first and Major League Baseball’s 22nd – to home plate umpire Ted Barrett, the fans, his catcher Buster Posey and the defensive unit.
“It’s a team effort and it showed tonight with a couple plays that were made,” Cain said after setting down 27 straight Houston Astros in the Giants’ 10-0 win.
Most perfect games have a signature perfect play and on a perfect Wednesday night at AT&T Park, Gregor Blanco etched his name in Giants lore with a spectacular snag.
Leading off the seventh inning, Jordan Schafer sent a ball deep to right-center field that looked destined to break up Cain’s bid at history. But Blanco, playing far off the right-field foul line, raced all the way to the warning track at the Visa sign in front of section 137 and laid out for a diving catch that preserved perfection.
“I still don’t know how he caught that ball,” Giants manger Bruce Bochy said. “I didn’t think there was a chance. I just put my head down and looked up and saw Blanco and he was relentless. It looked like he was playing centerfield where he caught the ball. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a right-fielder catch a ball there. What a play. When he caught that ball, I think Matt knew something special was happening.”
So did an electric sellout crowd of 42,298 fans that witnessed not only a pitching performance for the ages, but also a catch that rivals Willie Mays’ legendary over-the-shoulder grab.
“One of the most spectacular plays anyone’s ever seen,” Brandon Belt said. “For what it meant, it’s probably one of the best plays in baseball history.”
Matt Cain had a different view of the catch, but the same reaction.
“That was the defining play,” Cain said. “He makes that play in the beginning of the seventh inning, and then I had to get two more outs. The place is going crazy and I was literally having to re-check myself to be able to see the signs that Buster was putting down because it was so much adrenaline, so much stuff going on.”
Cain settled himself with strikeouts of Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie to end the inning. He then proceeded to perfection with the final six outs, none of which required help from Blanco, who deserved the rest after racing halfway to the avocado tree beyond the centerfield wall.
“The coaches told me that with Jordan Schafer to play a little more to the gap,” Blanco said. “Everybody kept telling me ‘What are you doing playing right there?’ I guess I used my legs and tried to catch the ball. I was aware of what was going on and Melky [Cabrera] made a great catch in left field also. I said to myself ‘you better catch it’ and I did.”
Cabrera’s catch was set up as the signature perfection-preserving play until Blanco upstaged him. With one out in the sixth inning, Astros catcher Chris Snyder jumped on a first-pitch fastball and both the sound of the crack of the bat and the trajectory of the ball seemed to spell doom for Cain. But the breeze off McCovey Cove knocked the ball down and kept it in the park for Cabrera to make a leaping catch at the wall. Cain lowered his head after the swing, assuming his bid for perfection, as well as a shutout, was gone.
“I thought it was a home run, I think we all did,” Cain said. “I have no idea why that ball stayed in the park.”
Cain finished the sixth inning by striking out Brian Bixler, but he got some help from Posey, who blocked the 1-2 curveball and threw to Brandon Belt at first to complete the out.
That was Posey’s only real defensive highlight, but his game-calling skills were put to the test all night.
“I couldn’t be happier for Buster Posey,” Bochy said. “You can go your whole career and not catch a no-hitter, much less a perfect game. He deserves a lot of credit. Called a great game. They were in synch the whole time.”
Posey, who has already caught a World Series-clinching pitch in his brief big-league career, explained his emotions.
“I was as nervous as I’ve ever been on a baseball field, not gonna lie,” Posey said. “It’s a different type of nervousness than in the World Series or playoffs because you want so much to put the right pitch down. But ultimately this is a guy making pitches and what I just tried to do is be confident in everything I called and not deviate from what I had done the entire game.”
The Posey-Cain connection led to 14 strikeouts, tied with Sandy Koufax for the most in a perfect game. With that many outs coming from the battery alone, the Giants’ defense wasn’t in action that often. But when the tests came, Blanco and Cabrera weren’t the only ones with passing grades.
The Giants started the game with Ryan Theriot at second base, Pablo Sandoval at third and Joaquin Arias at shortstop. But Bochy started tinkering with his lineup card when the Giants took an early lead and Cain looked like he was closing in on something special. Ryan Theriot gave way to Emmannuel Burriss in the top of the sixth inning, a move Bochy said he made both for a defensive upgrade and to give Theriot a rest. An inning later, Bochy moved Arias from short to third in place of Pablo Sandoval and brought Brandon Crawford in to play shortstop.
“The last two-three innings, I was going to put the best defense out there and that’s what I thought it was,” Bochy said.
The skipper’s moves paid off, as Crawford handled his lone chance in the eighth and Arias made nifty plays at both short and third, including the game-ending play, which forced him back on his heels for a flat-footed throw across the diamond.
“It was a funky hop,” Cain said of the 27th out. “He did a great job. Somehow that ball finding his glove and him being able to set his feet and throw it to first, that obviously was the topping on it, being able to make that play.”
Bochy succinctly explained his emotions.
“We witnessed history,” Bochy said after watching his 27-year-old right-hander from Alabama, drafted 25th overall by the Giants in 2002, put on a spectacular show.
Even after performing a feat that only 21 other men have accomplished, Cain remained humble, deflecting credit to Posey and Blanco, who flanked him at the postgame press conference.
“I can’t explain what these two guys and the rest of the guys did to make this happen,” Cain said. “It definitely was not just me. It was an all out effort tonight. Everybody did a lot of work and it turned out perfect.”
Whether the pun was intended or not, Cain nailed it.