Matt Cain pitched well, but the Giants couldn’t score behind him. They gave him a single run to get the win, and when that didn’t happen, they complained under their breath and gave him a second run. None of it worked, and it was just another tough-luck loss. And I cried because I’ll never see a game like this again.
The perfect final Cain start would go something like this: 7.1 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. But Bruce Bochy wasn’t going to let him throw 110 pitches. So the perfect final start was off the table.
The second-most perfect Cain finale would have ended with the Giants winning a postseason series. That, unfortunately, did not happen. If they could have managed that, it would have been a super cool trick, but the odds and physical laws of the universe were against them.
The third-most perfect Cain finale would have to do with him throwing well, leaving with a lead, and watching quietly as his other 24 teammates crumbled around him.
This, then. This wasn’t the perfect Cain finale. It was just close to perfect.
I’m not even being snarky about this, either. One of the most important things about Matt Cain that you need to remember is that his tale didn’t start in 2010. When he zipped through three different postseason series without allow a singled danged earned run, it wasn’t like, “Wow, where did this guy come from?” He was a known quantity. He was already excellent.
But for years, a game like this was the norm. Those tough-luck starts built a little Minecraft cathedral in your brain, where you could meditate and think about the mistakes you made. You were a Giants fan, and all that meant was certain pain. They hadn’t won a World Series since New York, which meant they hadn’t won a World Series. Whenever they got close, it was followed by excruciating pain. All they had was this young pitcher doing outstanding things, and Cain got hosed every time.
He got cained every time, if you want to use the preferred nomenclature. And it was a part of that Giants-fan DNA. No, we haven’t won in 50 years. Yes, A’s fans keep posting that meme with the empty trophy cabinet. Yes, the only good thing about baseball to us is a young kid who pitches his heart out so his team can lose horribly. It’s complicated.
It’s a start that reminds you of your roots, then. This is where you came from as a Giants fan. There was no hope, and then there was Matt Cain. That’s a little oversimplified, but not by much. He used to not get enough runs to win, and then he won against the Phillies, Rangers, Reds, and Cardinals. He was the starting pitcher who threw well enough against the Tigers that Ryan Theriot (DH) could score the winning run. We weren’t talking about him getting cained in those series. The regular rules were suspended, and he was just a good pitcher helping his team win.
There was no hope, and then there was Matt Cain.
I cried, and my 8-year-old daughter didn’t quite understand, so I tried to explain it. Cain’s debut was the same season as McCovey Chronicles, and I apologize if it seems like navel-gazing to bring it up, but it’s impossible to overstate what he meant to the early years of the site. The team was a diaper bin crawling with possums, but every Cain start was an appointment. He was the reason to watch. I was desperate for a reason to watch. This was a beautiful coincidence.
I want you to think about the Giants in 2005 for a second. Really think about it. There were no championships, not in San Francisco. The last Giants pitcher to win a Cy Young was Mike McCormick. The last no-hitter was before the Ramones, give or take. Sure, there was an MVP hegemony that developed between Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, and Barry Bonds, but the franchise wasn’t an embarrassment of riches. There was cool stuff about the Giants back then, but it wasn’t a tidal wave, and there was a whole lot of wondering when it was going to happen for them. Except the team was awful, and everyone was almost 40. It was all ruined.
It was a team with a history of disappointment, and then there was Matt Cain. He helped the Giants win a championship, and then he did it again. He gave them Cy Young hopes. He didn’t just throw a no-hitter, he threw the first perfect game in franchise history, threading a needle that Christy Mathewson, Carl Hubbell, and Juan Marichal could not.
I started writing about the Giants in that earlier, sadder context. It was bitter and cynical, and I’m not going to pretend like I’m proud of all the words. It was a self-flagellating time, when it was reasonable to think that the Giants were built for individual records and nothing else. They were always going to disappoint.
Except, there was this kid who kept going. He wasn’t Jamie Brewington. He wasn’t Roger Mason. He wasn’t Joe Fontenot or Jason Grilli. He was a quiet, young right-hander with a draft pedigree, and he made the Giants interesting again. Before the Giants had no-hitters and championships, they had Cain. And it made me wonder, “What if?” It was a weird thought for a Giants fan. It was reasonable to wonder “What if?” when the Giants employed the BEST HITTER IN BASEBALL HISTORY, and when they screwed that up, “What if?” turned into “What if it never happens for us? What if we’ll never watch a homegrown pitcher as electric as Russ Ortiz again?”
The Last Pitch of Matt Cain's Career pic.twitter.com/qowsaZsOOr— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 30, 2017
Cain emerged from that fog, and he was tremendous, even if it didn’t lead to championships right away. Ask Royals fans what they remember about Zack Greinke. There will be mostly positive thoughts. He didn’t lead that team to the promised land. He was just a guy who showed up and made everyone happy. That was Cain’s floor, and it was so, so welcome. If Cody Ross is claimed by the Pirates in 2010, that might have been what we remembered Cain for. He was the guy who showed up and made everyone happy, and then he left.
Instead, he’s ... this. He’s the transition out of the Bonds years. He’s the transition into the Posey years. He’s the All-Star pitcher the Giants could never develop.
Matt Cain is everything you thought the Giants would never have. They Giants didn’t throw no-hitters. They didn’t win championships. They didn’t develop pitchers. This was just how it was. And then Cain came along, sandwiched between a couple Moneyball prospects, taking over and rewriting the franchise:
He’ll be missed. He’s missed right now. Thanks for everything, Matt Cain. You were consistently one of the very best parts of being a Giants fan.