As we gear up for an exciting October of postseason baseball, there was a game Saturday that, for the most part, flew under the radar. It comes as no surprise as it was the two bottom dwellers in an otherwise loaded NL West. The Giants and the Padres squared off in what has been disappointing seasons for both squads, but more importantly it was the final start for now Giants Legend Matt (The Horse) Cain. The game was very indicative of Matt Cain’s career. He threw five shutout innings, left the game with a lead, and ended up with a no decision. Little run support was a common theme for this man’s admirable career.
Now before you scoff at the word “legend” being thrown out, remember that it was a GIANTS legend. He never did it with glamour or flash, just kept his head down and consistently worked. He was the Giants workhorse for many years. His last three plus years over a five ERA does not do justice to the legacy that he left in the city by the bay.
(Franchise Ranks, SF era)
2nd in starts (331)
3rd in innings (2085.2)
3rd in strikeouts (1694)
4th in WHIP (1.23)
5th in wins (104)
7th in ERA (3.68)
A very solid 13-year career, (2005-2017) for a guy who was overshadowed by the young slinger Tim Lincecum (who made his dominate splash from 2008-2011) and now to Madison Bumgarner (2010-present). Despite only having one year as the Giants number one starter, while Bumgarner was still a pup transitioning to become the player he is, Cain will be finishing his career with some incredible accomplishments under his belt. He is a three-time All-Star, started an All-Star Game, had a career 1.84ERA in the World Series, three World Series titles (though only pitched in two), and arguably the greatest game ever pitched in Major league history– his perfect game.
There have been 23 perfect games pitched in the history of Major League Baseball; Cain’s was the greatest. He struck out 14 which is the most ever, tying Sandy Koufax in the live ball era. To put that in perspective, that is 27 up, 27 down and more than half (50%) of the batters striking out. People may argue that he had some great defensive work behind him, but who hasn’t when throwing a perfect game? There is an article on MLB.com that ranks Matt Cain’s perfect game at 10th of all time, citing he had help from advanced scouting telling Gregor Blanco to shade right-center field against Jordan Shafer. Let me tell you something that is no shock to Giants fans, EVERYONE shades right center. It’s 421 feet out there. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Every game that is played uses advanced scouting to help pitchers defensively. That is why we are seeing more extreme shifts now than ever. However, what separates this outing as the greatest game ever is his game score. Game score is an advanced metric that rates a pitcher’s start. It combines innings pitched, strikeouts, hits, walks, and runs. After the final line each correspond with points and the points are added up (scores are typically between 0-100 and an average pitching performance being around 50). After calculating his game score, it ranks fourth all time. Behind Kershaw’s no hitter, Scherzer’s no hitter, and Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game. Therefore, he has the highest game score of any perfect game pitcher in the history of baseball. Perfect games will always rank above no hitters and thanks to the game score, numbers never lie. He truly pitched the greatest game of all time.
As an unapologetic Giants fan I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Cain’s 2010 playoff performance; 20.2 innings with zero earned runs. In the live ball era that places him third for most innings pitched without surrendering a run in a single postseason. If you ever get an opportunity to re-watch any of his starts from that year, don’t hesitate. You won’t see the best stuff you’ve ever seen, he didn’t even have the best stuff on that team. But what you will be watching is a master at the height of his craft.
The history of baseball will not have his name in bold letters when talking about all-time great pitchers, and that’s okay, he didn’t piece together the type of career that warrants it. He may not get enshrined in the MLB Hall of Fame, that’s okay as well. In fact, the only time he will likely come up nationally is when they are talking about the people who have thrown a perfect game. But when it comes to San Francisco and their fans, he will forever be in our hearts as one of the greatest pitchers to wear a Giants uniform. If you find yourself at AT&T park in the coming years just ask a few fans and you’ll see. He has had a profound effect on the organization, the fans, and the city. My final hope is that they retire his jersey so his legacy in SF can live on forever.
Thank you, Matt Cain.