By Alex Pavlovic, San Jose Mercury News –
SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Cain has talked openly of his lifelong dream of throwing a perfect game. It’s no longer just a dream.
Cain threw the first perfect game in the San Francisco Giants’ long and storied history Wednesday night at AT&T Park, striking out 14 in a 10-0 victory over the Houston Astros.
Cain, the longest tenured Giant, has been through it all in his eight seasons in San Francisco. He has seen highs — a World Series title in 2010 — and lows — dozens of losses on nights when he was brilliant.
Through it all Cain has been unflappable, but that trait never has been tested like it was Wednesday night.
“There’s really nothing like it,” said Cain, who previously had taken five no-hitters into the seventh inning and had a perfect game into the sixth inning of his second start this season.
“I was having to recheck myself to see the signs that Buster (Posey) was putting down. I was thinking about it. It felt like it was the World Series, but it almost felt a little louder.”
Cain was the one providing the impetus for most of the noise. His day started in unorthodox fashion, when he took an impromptu swing during a pregame golf exhibition and drove a ball 300 yards into McCovey Cove.
In retrospect, that perfect swing should have been a sign of things to come.
Cain mowed down the Astros from the outset, establishing all of his pitches, especially a fastball that stymied the Astros throughout.
“The first time through the lineup, I felt like something could happen,” he said.
With plenty of help from his own lineup and a couple stunning plays from his defense, Cain sailed into the ninth inning.
Brian Bogusevic and Chris Snyder flied out for the first two outs of the ninth, and as the sellout crowd held its collective breath, Cain got Jason Castro to ground out to third.
Twenty-seven up. Twenty-seven down.
Cain, beloved by teammates and a fan base that rejoiced when he signed a new six-year contract in April, was mobbed on the mound.
“I just hugged him and he said, ‘This is stupid,’ ” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I think he understood how much we think of him and the game he threw.”
Cain’s perfect game was just the 22nd in major league history (counting postseason) and the second of the 2012 season. Chicago White Sox right-hander Philip Humber threw a perfect game on April 21. Cain’s effort was the first no-hit performance by a Giant since Jonathan Sanchez no-hit the San Diego Padres on July 10, 2009.
Cain, 27, took the dominance a step further, tying Sandy Koufax’s record for strikeouts in a perfect game.
He did what Hall of Famers and Cy Young Award winners never could while donning the orange and black.
“It’s such a hard thing to do — to be a part of it is special, a night we will all remember,” Bochy said. “He’s had some hard luck in the past, and he’s been close. For him to be the guy that gets it makes it all the more special.”
The first five innings featured little drama for Cain, who repeatedly threw first-pitch strikes to an Astros lineup that was caught looking time after time. But like any bid for history, there would be moments when the defense was tested.
Melky Cabrera made the first highlight play of the night, a leaping grab that secured the second out of the sixth inning. Snyder’s blast to left looked like it would easily travel into the left-field bleachers, but the thick San Francisco air knocked the ball down and gave Cabrera time to make the catch just inches in front of the wall.
“I thought it was gone,” Bochy said. “It seemed like it almost went over the wall and came back.”
“Oh yah,” Cain said, nodding his head emphatically. “I thought it was a homer. I have no idea why that ball stayed in the park.”
History was tested again in the seventh when Jordan Schafer led off with a liner deep toward Triples Alley, where home runs go to die but hits rarely do.
Gregor Blanco is a center fielder by trade but plays right field in the Giants’ loaded alignment. The first-year Giant is fond of saying the outfield features three players with center fielder’s skills, and he showed them while chasing Schafer’s ball down and making a diving catch on the warning track.
Blanco called it the greatest catch of his life.
“I was aware of what was going on,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘If it’s hit there, you’d better catch it.’ ”
In the dugout, Bochy couldn’t bear to watch.
“I just put my head down and then looked up and saw Blanco and he was relentless,” Bochy said. “I think Matt knew something special was happening.”
As Blanco held the ball high above his head, a sellout crowd of 42,298 gave him an extended standing ovation. The disbelief was momentary — Cain struck out Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie to end the seventh.
Bochy pulled out all the stops in the late innings, inserting strong fielders Brandon Crawford and Emmanuel Burriss in the middle infield and moving Joaquin Arias over to third in place of Pablo Sandoval. As Cain’s pitch count began to rise, Bochy sent long man Shane Loux behind the dugout to secretly warm up.
“Matt didn’t know it,” Bochy said. “I had somebody ready. But once it got to the eighth we had no problems. I was going to let Matt go 130 pitches, maybe more.”
Cain needed 103 pitches to get through the seventh. Arias, an early-season call-up, easily gloved a slow grounder and made a strong throw to first to retire J.D. Martinez, the first batter of the eighth. Cain went to a 3-2 count on Brett Wallace, one of just four on the night, before striking him out looking with a 93 mph inside fastball.
The 14th strikeout marked a career high for Cain, but bigger things were to come.
Chris Johnson’s ground out to short ended the eighth inning, as Cain walked off and quietly took a seat in the dugout with 114 pitches down. Around him, AT&T Park shook as it never has.
“I was as nervous as I’ve ever been on a baseball field,” Posey said.
Posey and the rest of the lineup had taken care of the notoriously hard-luck Cain’s run support early, scoring 10 runs through the first five innings. Cabrera, Brandon Belt and Blanco homered, giving the Giants five homers in the last two games. They entered the series with just six homers this season at AT&T Park, but anything seemed possible for the Giants on this night.
Cain proved that on every one of his 125 pitches.
“This is awesome,” he said. “I can’t explain what the guys did to make this happen. Everybody did a lot of work.
“It turned out perfect.”