I did a podcast with the good folks at Bucs Dugout, and one of the first questions had to do with Matt Cain. What's the best way to respond to a question about Matt Cain? A sonnet? But I'm always scared I'll go a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-e-f-f, g-g instead of a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g when I'm put on the spot.
A little song? I have a few written. But without the strings swelling in the background, I'm not sure the intended effect is there.
Warmly hug my Matt Cain bobblehead, pulling it close to keep away the evil spirits and bad thoughts? Well, sure. But you couldn't hear that on the podcast.
Instead, all there is to do is talk about the head and the heart. The head knows that it's a bad idea to keep pitchers around past the sell-by date on the package. Labrums and ligaments and rotator cuffs and all that. The sell-by date isn't actually on the package. It's just sort of implied. When you give a long-term deal to any pitcher -- Roy Halladay, Phil Niekro, Juan Marichal, Barry Zito -- you're basically pulling out a stack of actuary tables and flipping them off.
The heart, though. The heart pictures Cain in any other uniform, and it gently weeps. Say, I should put that in one of the songs I wrote. The heart remembers the disappointment of Kelly Downs, Scott Garrelts, Atlee Hammaker, Shawn Estes … the pitchers who would show flashes, but never anything resembling consistency or longevity. Cain came up a few months before his 21st birthday, and he's started at least 31 games in every season since then. Most of them have been good starts. He was one of the only reasons to watch the Giants in the lean years. He was one of the best parts of the good years.
Then you picture him in a Marlins uniform, set against the backdrop of an outfield that looks like a LucasArts green screen, and the bile rises in the back of your throat. There's supposed to be an amount of money -- not yours, by the way -- that's so large, it makes something like that okay? There's an amount of fictional money that makes it acceptable to think of Cain on another team? No, no, best of luck, but we're going to figure out a way to put this money to better use?
Logically, yes. I'm pretty sure there's a more logical way to spend $120 million over six years, or whatever they gave him. And in 2016, I might have a different opinion than I do today. But in 2012, I'm not watching baseball for logic. Watching it for this Matt Cain fella. And I'll take the 40-percent chance that the Giants are great with Matt Cain on the team forever and ever and ever and ever over the 55-percent chance that the Giants will be great without him. You can slide the numbers up and down as you like. The point stands.
There's a recency bias at play, but I'm pretty sure that we just watched the greatest games of Cain's career. He'd thrown two one-hitters before, but my favorite start of his before this was in Coors Field in September, 2010. That one had a sense of urgency and foreboding that made his performance that much more impressive. And he was facing the Pirates today, after all. It might not be fair to compare them.
But when it comes to controlling the game, I don't remember ever seeing a Giants pitcher control a game quite like today, and I'm tempted to include Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter and Tim Lincecum's NLDS Game 1 in that. At no point did you think the Pirates could do anything. Part of that is Pirates-related, sure. But that doesn't take away from how dominant Cain was today.
In conclusion, Matt Cain.
I will always root for James McDonald, as he was part of one the worst trades in baseball history. Hyperbole, sure. But not by much. On July 31, 2010, the Dodgers were seven games back in the NL West. They were five-and-a-half games back of the Wild Card. They still traded McDonald for Octavio Dotel, a reliever who was also a pending free agent. Forty-eight days later, they traded Dotel to the Rockies for a player to be named later. It was the most frivolous use of a long-term asset that I've ever seen. A reliever? Who will be a free agent? When you're five-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot?
Maybe McDonald will succeed, and maybe he won't. But because he makes me laugh at the Dodgers, he'll always be someone I root for.
But not when he's at the plate, dang it.
Buster Posey's first at-bat would have been the story in any other game. Standing ovation. Drive to the wall. A healthy run around the bases. It was perfect. I'll never forget the way he clawed at the dirt in front of home plate. The damned clawing of the dirt always gets me. But with each game and every at-bat, it at least gets buried further and further into the recesses of my subconscious. Man, that was a beautiful at-bat.
And the guy can call a pretty mean game, too.
At the risk of repeating myself, I hope I'm wrong about every criticism I ever have about the Giants. I hope that when I yell for Theriot to start, Burriss gets six hits, and when I complain that Burriss isn't playing, Theriot gets three home runs. Well, maybe those are bad examples, but you know what I'm mean. I'd rather the Giants are right before I am. And it sure looks like Aubrey Huff actually is swinging well. That's a good sign.
Luckily, I have an out! I can hide behind the ambiguity of the Huff/Nate Schierholtz/Brandon Belt non-rotation. Unfortunately -- by which I mean, fortunately -- Schierholtz also looked okay today, driving a ball to the opposite field and generally swinging well. This might not be as easy as we thought. I'd still start Belt. But I'm not totally down on seeing if Huff can at least hit his career averages (.279/.342/.466). I'm more comfortable sitting Schierholtz, especially if his defense isn't as magic as it once was.
But if they are both swinging the bat well, I'm pretty sure we'll see Belt in Fresno soon. Which is unfortunate. But much, much better than the current nonsense.