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Best Giants of the Decade: Matt Cain


San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

How could we not love Matt Cain?

cain sweeney

If you’ve never taken note of long-time McCoven RESDOG’s signature, he sums it up perfectly:

Before there was the Freak, the MVP, the Panda, the Angry Hobo, the Rally Thong, the Belt Wars, the parades, the titles, before all that, there was a young man that was the first shine of glory that was to come. The first spark. Matthew Thomas Cain.

low run support cain 7

Matt Cain: the long-suffering, the eponymous victim of years of poor support and bullpen failure that led to its own terminology: Cained.

low run support cain 2

Matt Cain. The meme-worthy. The calm steady presence in a clubhouse full of goofballs. But with a burning competitiveness under the surface. A young leader of a growing wave of young talent.

cain again

I was in kind of weird place in 2003 — a kind of in between place. The company I’d been working for had folded up when the owner decided to retire and I was working freelance. Newly moved and living on my own, drifting a bit. But one thing good about being in an in between place is you often find you have time on your hands and as it happened the Giants had recently moved one of their A ball clubs to a town an hour or so away from me, to Hagerstown, MD. So why not while away the hours watching the young talent? I practically lived at the Hagerstown Suns homey field.

Which is where I first laid eyes on 18 year old Matt Cain. It was prospect love at first sight. He was exactly the type of guy for whom the term “strapping” was coined. Big. Burly. Loose arm. Lots of hops on the fastball. A gorgeous, diving curve. I made sure I was at every home start he made that year. The last of them was the best of all — six innings of shutout ball on the weekend before the Sally league All Star break with 12 strikeouts. He was brilliant — and I dreamed of the glories to come after the break. But unfortunately, it was the last I saw of him that year as he disappeared for the second half of that season with a mysterious, and worrisome, elbow fracture. After missing all of the second half of 2003, he showed up good as ever in 2004, but I still wonder how that early elbow injury affected the arc of a career in which innings were piled on top of a young arm that made the majors at just 20 years old.

The first 650 or so of those innings coincided with the franchise’s first losing seasons in a decade — and the worst stretch of futility in over a century of Giants’ history. Cain emerged as the young homegrown star, taking over the mantle of leadership as the team stumbled its way through a transition away from the Barry Years.

When Tim Lincecum burst on the scene in 2007, stoic Matt Cain was already the world-weary 22 year old veteran leader of the staff. But while Timmy was “The Freak,” Wilson “The Beard,” Pablo “The Panda”, Matt Cain had no out-sized personality, known for his consistency, his stoicism, his steadiness, his reassuring presence.

cain finger

Ok, fine Matt — you were The Horse. The one we could always count on to be there. To perform. He threw at least 200 innings every year between 2007-2012 and averaged 200 IP from 2006-2013. In the four year period from 2007-2010 he racked up 19.3 rWAR, a period he punctuated with a near-perfect run through the 2010 post-season. In helping the franchise to their first ever championship Cain through 21.1 shutout innings — one scoreless start in each round.

And speaking of perfect:

cain blanco

June 13, 2012. If you had to pick one single night as the peak of the Giants Dynasty, it might have been this one. The night Matt Cain threw the 22nd Perfect Game in major league history; the first by a Giant.

In Grant’s 50 Awesome Things About Matt Cain’s Perfect Game, his first awesome thing was this:

1. That it was Matt Cain. I covered that in the post-game thread, but it has to lead this off. I’ve never rooted harder for an individual accomplishment in my life. The perfect Giant for something like this.

It was the perfect marriage of hero to moment. And who better than Cain to share his moment of triumph with a 28 year old minor league pickup.

cain blanco post game

Cain’s perfecto may have come against the tanking Astros, but the middle of that order featured Jose Altuve (Cain struck him out three times), Jed Lowrie, and JD Martinez.

It would be the high point of his career. 2012 was the last of Cain’s 200 inning seasons. The last year he was worth >3 WAR. The last year he posted an ERA+ above 100. He still threw 184 IP in 2013 be the injuries and ineffectiveness that would undermine his final four seasons was making its presence felt. Long stints on the DL, tiny innings totals, he was a Missing Person down the stretch of their final two playoff seasons in 2014 and 2016 and wasn’t on the post season roster either year.

The horrendous 2017 season gave the Giants the perfect opportunity to send Cain out in style, setting him up for one final full-house Standing O. One the final day of the 2017 season he took the mound at AT&T for one final start — 5 innings of 2 hit, shutout baseball and a crowd of 40,394 who wanted to stop time forever and shower the steady man with all the passion he gave to us, though he rarely showed it.

cain fans