Giants, Righetti know what perfection means to Cain


Giants, Righetti know what perfection means to Cain

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.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “options game” can be a cruel one. It can also be one of the most important parts of spring training. 

If two players are relatively even at the end of camp but only one can be optioned to the minors, he’s usually the man left out. Giants officials have already made reference to this several times in discussing left field, where Jarrett Parker — who is out of options — would surely be claimed off waivers if the Giants try to sneak him back to the minors before Opening Day. Mac Williamson, on the other hand, can be shuttled back and forth. 

The same holds true for Kelby Tomlinson, and while it was easy during the first week of camp to see him as the odd man out, manager Bruce Bochy said that’s not the case. What do all the veteran infielders mean for the young one already in-house?

“It hasn’t affected anything for Kelby, really,” Bochy said. “It’s all about competition for spots on this team.”

Tomlinson played 54 games in 2015 and 52 a year ago, but the Giants put a clear emphasis this offseason on finding backup infielders. Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang, Orlando Calixte and Gordon Beckham were among those brought in before camp, and Aaron Hill arrived on the fourth day. Sure, Ehire Adrianza — who was seemingly perpetually out of options — is no longer around, but if the Giants carry just two backup infielders, one of them will almost certainly be Conor Gillaspie. 

Tomlinson isn’t bothered by the offseason of additions. He said he can take knowledge away from six weeks spent with guys he grew up watching.

“Rollins’ prime was right in my later high school years,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from and watch. It’s a little of both (a competition and learning experience). We’re all fighting for the same job, but we’re still on the same team and we’re all trying to learn from each other and help each other.”

Tomlinson is the incumbent, and the Giants certainly know all about his speed and ability to play all over the field (he continued to take fly balls this winter, just in case). They also now know that Tomlinson adds something that’s needed on any bench. Last season, he emerged as one of Bochy’s most reliable pinch-hitters. 

Tomlinson’s seven pinch-hits were tied for second on the team after Gillaspie’s 11. He was 7-for-17 in a pinch, adding three walks. Tomlinson’s simple swing and up-the-middle approach have proven perfect for important spots. He’s a .315 career hitter with runners in scoring position, a .373 hitter in situations baseball-reference deems “late and close,” and a .367 hitter in “high leverage” spots.

“I’m just trying to compete up there every at-bat, especially in that pinch-hitting role,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a grind, but that makes it fun when you give the team a quality at-bat. Even if it’s not a hit, you go up there and try to see five pitches and have a good at-bat.”

Tomlinson has given the Giants plenty of them over parts of two seasons. With Brandon Crawford headed for the World Baseball Classic, he is sure to see increased time this spring, and while the options game or non-roster list might catch up to him, the Giants haven’t forgotten what they already have. 

“He gives us versatility,” Bochy said, “So he’s in the mix, too.”