Matt Cain threw a perfect game Wednesday night, running 27 consecutive Houston Astros into the ground with his usual assertiveness and precision, following 19 other perfect games in Major League Baseball since the turn of the 20th Century.
In so doing, the San Francisco Giants right-hander drew alongside the likes of Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay, so alongside greatness. He tipped his cap to a play or two behind him but otherwise had a career-high 14 strikeouts over a 125-pitch bullying, during which the Astros were largely helpless in a 10-0 game at AT&T Park.
While 2012 has seen two perfect games and three other no-hitters over barely two months, and while baseball now has five perfect games in the span of the past three years, there of course remains a thunderbolt quality to them. There are wins, and there is dominance, and then there is the perfect game, a still stunning blend of meticulousness and timing and luck, as it asks nine men and four umpires to be flawless over the very same three hours.
Through that prism of hardball and good fortune and just the proper breeze, we look at Matt Cain, the strapping Tennessean with the blunt-force fastball and workhorse reputation, and on the occasion of his 216th major-league start, we respectfully ask: What took you so long?
See, this was coming.
Cain, who has suffered run-support deficiencies in San Francisco almost since arriving in the majors seven seasons ago, rarely has carried the record that reflected his pitching. He took the ball Wednesday night with a 76-75 mark in spite of a sub-3.00 ERA in three of the past four seasons. He has thrown 200 or more innings in five consecutive seasons and likely will again in this one. Beyond the statistics, his starts are among the most threatening and least comfortable to hitters across the league, given that he commands four pitches, and given that any of them could end an at-bat futilely.
Cain had carried five no-hitters into the seventh inning. He more frequently had what folks call "no-hit stuff," on nights no-hitters died with single flashes of the bat but without real authority.
But on a night warm enough that he pitched bare-armed and sweated through his cream-colored home uniform, Cain ended all that. He threw a game that drew comparisons to one of the iconic games ever thrown. Sandy Koufax struck out 14 Chicago Cubs in his perfect game of 1965, the last of four no-hitters he threw in his career, and perhaps the most dominant.
"This is unbelievable," Cain told reporters in San Francisco. "It's something I'm obviously going to remember forever and ever."
He won't be alone, not just for how he pitched it, but for its inevitability. The man, the pitcher, had this coming. In that sense, he had not so much waited on a no-hitter, but it on him.
"I don't know if I felt something special," he said. "But I felt good. When I got on the mound, in between the lines, I felt like I knew what I was doing with my fastball. Usually those are good days when that happens and it worked out. It obviously worked out right."
[Related: Matt Cain throws perfect game against Astros]
The game – his game – survived the drama of a long fly ball into the right-center field gap with none out in the seventh inning. Astros leadoff hitter Jordan Schafer drove the ball to the warning track, to a place that apparently would split center fielder Angel Pagan and right fielder Gregor Blanco. More to center field than right, Blanco raced to his right, flung himself into the air, gloved the ball with his right hand and skittered to a stop in front of the wall.
Blanco said he'd thought, "You better catch it."
In a postgame news conference, remarking on Blanco's fortuitous positioning, Cain laughed and asked him, "What were you doing there?"
Blanco shrugged and laughed.
"I've still got to get two more outs [in the seventh inning], and the place was going crazy," Cain said. "And I was literally having to re-check myself just to be able to see the signs that Buster [Posey, his catcher] was putting down because it was so much adrenaline, so much stuff going on."
Posey admitted, "I was as nervous as I've ever been on a baseball field, I'm not going to lie. You want so much to put the right pitch down, but ultimately this is the guy making the pitch."
He looked at Cain, who only two months ago had signed a six-year, $127.5 million contract extension with the Giants. Cain has displaced the struggling Tim Lincecum as the unquestioned ace of the staff and has become a face of the Giants for the future.
For the moment, however, this was about today, the day Cain got what was coming to him, and then raised a fist to celebrate it.
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• Bryce Harper's 'That's a clown question, bro' retort goes viral
• Marc J. Spears: Hurricane Katrina gave OKC chance to show it could support NBA franchise
• Dan Wetzel: Janitor's graphic testimony, Bob Costas' telling interview benefit Jerry Sandusky prosecution