Matt Cain threw a perfect game at home against the Astros on Wednesday night. There have now been five no-hitters through the first two and a half months of this season, including two perfect games, 14 no-hitters dating back to the start of the 2010 season, including four perfect games, and five perfect games thrown in the last 36 months. Such performances are still rare enough that their recent frequency registers as little more than a random clumping, but it's understandable if fans are starting to get a bit blasé about no-hit games.
What Cain did on Wednesday night, however, was special even in that context. He didn't just throw a perfect game, he turned in one of the most dominant nine-inning performances in major league history.
Cain not only retired all 27 Houston hitters he faced, he struck out 14 of them, tying the record for strikeouts in a perfect game set by Sandy Koufax in 1965. Of the 227 no-hitters in major league history, only five of them (including three by Nolan Ryan) saw the author record more than 14 strikeouts, and none of those games were perfect. According to Bill James'
So go ahead and grouse about the frequency of no-hit games in recent years (heck, this was the third no-hitter this month) or about no-name pitchers like Philip Humber and Dallas Braden throwing perfect games, but don't begrudge Cain. What he did Wednesday night was a step above the other no-hit games in recent years. It was also completely in character.
After Jered Weaver threw the second no-hitter of this season back on May 2, my editor asked me to speculate about who might throw the next one. That seemed like a fool's errand at first, but it didn't take me long to settle on Cain as the most likely candidate. Here's
There's no such-thing as an inevitable no-hitter, but Cain was beginning to have the look of a pitcher for whom it was just a matter of time, much like Tom Seaver or Dave Stieb, both of whom came close several times before finally adding their name to the no-hitter scroll.
You might have noticed that Cain is keeping some pretty heady company in these paragraphs: Koufax, Ryan, Seaver, pre-injury Kerry Wood and Stieb (who, for those willing to look past pitching wins and losses, may have been the best pitcher of the 1980s), not to mention three of his four his contemporaries on that list above of the lowest batting averages against, Verlander, Kershaw and Weaver. It could well be that Wednesday night was the night that Cain officially became an ace.
For years Cain has been considered a step below, be it because he was overshadowed by two-time Cy Young-winning rotation mate Tim Lincecum, because of the poor run and bullpen support that has
With Lincecum suffering through a disastrous season, Cain has emerged as the Giants' ace. On Monday,
Cain is now 8-2 with a 2.18 ERA on the season, the latter the second best mark in the National League and third-best in the majors, and he leads the major leagues in both innings (95) and innings per start (7.3) among qualified pitchers. Whatever you thought of the six-year, $127.5 million extension the Giants signed him to at the start of the season, that contract looks a lot better now. Cain will be just 32 in the final year of that deal, 33 if his option for 2018 vests, and a little more than a third of the way through year one, he has been the best pitcher in baseball.
Sometimes, as in the case of Humber and Braden, the perfect game is bigger than the pitcher that threw it. In this case, the perfect game, one of the handful of the most dominant nine-inning games ever pitched, could prove to be just another artifact of a tremendous career.