Matt Cain relives biggest moments from perfect game with Giants teammates

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Cain, Giants teammates relive best moments from his perfect game originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Matt and Chelsea Cain tried to figure out ways to entertain their two young daughters during the summer of 2020, they noticed that a notable pitching performance was going to be airing on TV one night.

There were no live sports at the time, but Cain's perfect game was one of several classic Giants performances that were being replayed, so the family hit record and decided to make a fun night of it. The Cain daughters did not last long.

"They made it an inning and a half," Cain said recently, laughing. "They were like, 'Cool, we're done, we're good.' It was funny. It was just like, 'Alright dad, that's cool.'"

It might be hard for Cain to impress his daughters by reminiscing, but that game will forever hold a special and unforgettable place in Giants history. It is one of the best pitching performances the game has ever seen, and it's one that will be close to impossible for any future Giant to replicate.

Two months and two days after Cain threw the 22nd perfect game in MLB history, Seattle's Félix Hernández joined the club. There hasn't been another one since.

Cain threw 125 pitches that night, a number that has been topped just once in the last three seasons in all of Major League Baseball. In the decade since he struck out 14 Houston Astros, no Giants pitcher has passed that mark.

It was a legendary performance in every way, and with the anniversary approaching, Cain sat down to rewatch the game and break it all down. Through that lengthy interview and others with former and current Giants, here's an oral history of the night Cain went 27 up, 27 down.

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There have been plenty of no-hitters and perfect games that came out of nowhere, with a struggling or relatively unknown pitcher catching lightning in a bottle for nine innings. That's how most of the recent Giants ones have been, in fact. But in the summer of 2012, Cain was at the top of his game. 

Through his first 12 starts that season, Cain was 9-3 with a 2.41 ERA. He was the dependable workhorse on a staff full of aces, and he was already a World Series champion. That July, he would start the All-Star Game. 

It was Cain's peak, and on June 13, 2012, he got to the ballpark and started to go about his routine after a quiet morning at the dog park with his wife and first daughter.

"It wasn't anything out of the ordinary," he said. 

That changed when he saw what was set up at home plate. The U.S. Open was starting at the Olympic Club the following day and Taylor Made brought Dustin Johnson out to hit balls into McCovey Cove before batting practice. 

Two months earlier, the front office, led by general manager Brian Sabean, had given Cain an extension worth $127.5 million, making him the highest-paid right-hander in the game. With Sabean sitting in the seats alongside the home dugout, Cain eyed the setup 

CAIN: "I was nervous about trying to do it because it was not part of the routine at all. It was one of those things where I was like, this is once in a lifetime. How am I not going to try and at least take a swing?"

MANAGER BRUCE BOCHY: "He asked me if it was alright if he teed one up and I said, 'Well, there's our boss there, our GM is sitting there, Sabes."

CAIN: "The guys were like, 'Hey, why don't you hit one?' I turned around and looked at Sabes in the stands and I was kind of gesturing like, 'Hey, I want to do this.' He didn't give me a no, but he didn't really give me a yes. I just kind of took it as, 'Alright, just don't hurt yourself."

BOCHY: "I don't know how loose he was, either. But he got up and smoked it."

CAIN: "I was just happy that I hit one good. I flushed it, a nice little draw."

In each of the two seasons after Cain's perfect game, Tim Lincecum threw no-hitters. Rookie Chris Heston followed those with a no-hitter in 2015. The Giants were built around strong starting pitching, and for a while, it seemed like someone was flirting with history just about every turn through the rotation. 

Cain had already taken five no-hit attempts into the seventh inning prior to June 13, and he was open about how it was a dream of his to complete one. In his second start of the season, he retired the first 17 Pittsburgh Pirates before allowing a soft single to left. He had to settle for an 11-strikeout one-hitter. 

Exactly two months later, Cain cruised through the early innings against the rebuilding Astros, who would lose 107 games but start to mix in future stars like José Altuve. 

Cain started the night with strikeouts of Jordan Schafter (a key figure later on) and Altuve. Jed Lowrie popped up to third base to end the inning. 

"That can be a hard moment for me, because the first inning can always be like, 'Are these guys going to ambush or are they going to come out and wait?'" he said. "They were aggressive and I was aggressive and the game got into a rhythm early."

In the second inning, Cain got a lazy fly ball to center, a strikeout on a low 3-2 changeup and a slow roller to short. The third inning started with a routine grounder to second, and then Cain froze catcher Chris Snyder and opposing pitcher J.A. Happ with 92 mph fastballs. 

Cain was always a pitcher who tried to establish his fastball early, and on this night he and catcher Buster Posey noticed a little extra life on the pitch. 

CAIN: "I'm going to throw a lot of heaters, I always did. I was never afraid of throwing fastballs even when guys knew it was coming. When I knew that I had confidence in throwing the fastball early in the game, I knew that I had a lot of things going in my (favor) because I was getting the guys to swing on the other end."

For as long as the Giants play baseball, a pitcher who gets no run support will be known for getting "Cained." That was just life for the rotation's most reliable right-hander, who posted a 3.68 ERA in his 13-year career but went 104-118 because of the lack of offensive help. That wasn't an issue on this night, though. 

The Giants scored two runs in the first on Melky Cabrera's homer and led 7-0 by the end of the third. They scored in each of the first five innings, and Cain even joined the party, scoring in the fifth when he hit a leadoff single and Gregor Blanco followed with a homer. By that point, it was clear that the Astros had no chance on the other end, either. 

Cain got two more strikeouts with his fastball in the fourth and opened the fifth by freezing J.D. Martinez and then blowing an elevated heater past Brett Wallace. When Johnson hit a slow roller to second baseman Ryan Theriot, Cain had five perfect innings. 

BROADCASTER DUANE KUIPER: "I think you always start to think about it around the fifth inning. I did that as a player and it really holds true as a broadcaster. You get to the fifth, and then if you get through the fifth, and you are lucky enough to get through the sixth, then you're really starting to think about it."

CAIN: "I was always aware of that because I always wanted to throw a no-hitter from (the time I was) a kid, and I had never done it. I always knew when I had not given up a hit, especially going through the order for the first time. I had a handful of (close calls)."

BENCH COACH RON WOTUS: "We had good pitching here so we had a lot of guys go into the fifth without giving up a hit. Matty and Lincecum and all these guys had the stuff to have no-hitters."

BLANCO: "It was around the sixth inning that you think about it. He had all of his pitches, they were all working. His slider and changeup and sinker were working the way he wanted them to work. I was like, he looks good. And we had a big lead."

BOCHY: "I think it was the strikeouts that made you think. You look at the strikeouts and they're swinging and missing the way they were. It's always the fifth inning when they hit you that, 'Hey, he's got a chance to throw a no-hitter.' You get past half the game and they're swinging and missing, that's when I felt like he's got another great shot here of getting a no-hitter because he had been close so many times. The swing-and-miss is what did it for me."

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Cain opened the sixth with another strikeout looking, again on the fastball. That was his 10th, but a pitch later he got the second-biggest scare of the night. 

He started Snyder with a first-pitch fastball that caught too much of the plate and was crushed out to left field. Cain didn't bother to turn and look, but on a chilly night at Oracle Park, the ball died in the air and seemed to drop straight down as it reached the wall. Cabrera, standing a few feet from the 382-foot sign, made a reaching grab as he bumped up against the wall. 

CAIN: "I thought it was gone. Watch me, look at me, like, 'Ahhh, that's gone.' Anytime that I've given up a homer that's the same body language. Like, that's gone. You know it. It sounded like it was gone. I knew I threw it kind of right into his happy zone. You started to see Melky give it a look. (Angel) Pagan, talking about that, he was like, 'That ball was for sure 10 rows deep.'"

BLANCO: "As soon as that ball was hit I was like, 'Oh man, please don't go, please don't go.' It was in San Francisco and the wind was crazy. It helped to our advantage.

CAIN: "It registered like, 'Hey, we've got something going on tonight.' That ball should have gone out. It was caught."

BOCHY: "I thought it was gone. It seemed like it almost went over the wall and came back."

Bochy had spent nearly four decades in professional baseball by the time Cain's perfect game came around, and he knew that as a manager, he couldn't purely be a spectator. The man whose instincts will put him in the Hall of Fame one day soon knew he had to help Cain, Lincecum and any other Giant who was taking a shot at history, and he always did. 

With a 10-run lead, Bochy went to work. Before the top of the sixth, Emmanuel Burriss replaced Ryan Theriot at second base. Cain ended that inning by following the Snyder scare with another strikeout, and when he took the field in the seventh, the Giants had their top defensive alignment on the field. 

Rookie Brandon Crawford was already one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, but he had started the night on the bench because the Astros had a lefty starter on the mound. Crawford came on as a defensive replacement in the seventh, moving the sure-handed Arias over to third to replace Pablo Sandoval. 

CRAWFORD: "It was the most nervous I had ever been in a baseball game, and I think probably to this day is still the most nervous I've ever been, including the World Series and all that. It's just because I feel like if you come in as a defensive replacement you're just expected to make any play that's hit to you, even if it's a Gregor Blanco-type impossible play, you have to make it to save the perfect game.

"If you don't, you ruined it. That was my thought going in. He had gotten 18-straight outs at that point and then I got one ground ball that was hit to me and I kind of blacked out and made the play. It was hard-hit, an in-between hop, but I made it and was happy that I did. I think my heart was going a million miles per hour on the way into the dugout."

BRANDON BELT: "It was pretty nerve-wracking. I think for me it's probably the most nervous I've been in a game. I was like, 'Dang, I had better not screw this up for him.'"

KUIPER: "The problem with playing in a perfect game is you've got that little demon on your shoulder that says don't screw up the perfect game, and you've got to chase that guy away because he wants to be there all the time."

WOTUS: "We don't discuss the perfect game there, but we all worked together long enough that we knew the right moves and had to make them, and Boch is really good at that. I think deep down you kind of feel obligated to do everything you possibly can to give Matt Cain every opportunity for the perfect game or no-hitter and that's by putting your better defenders in. You owe it to him."

CAIN: "Boch has always done a tremendous job of making sure that his defense that he needs out there at certain parts of the game, they were out there."

BOCHY: "We had a good lead, so that makes it a little bit easier to make those changes. But trust me, those guys feel that pressure. They want it so bad for the pitcher."

WOTUS: "I played behind a no-hitter in the minor leagues and your level of concentration and desire goes through the roof. It's amazing how team accomplishments or somebody else's accomplishments can raise your level of desire over your own accomplishments. It's one of the greatest things in sports, to be able to play behind someone on a day like that."

CAIN: "I think what was best was Theriot talking about it. He's like, 'I wanted no part of that game.' He was, like, terrified. He's like, 'Every popup that I've ever had in AT&T Park was terrifying. Nope, I want out.'"

In the years that followed, the Giants would put together one of the best defensive infields in baseball, but in 2012 the strength of the defense was the outfield. Cabrera, Blanco and Pagan were all brought in before that season, and Blanco was fond of saying the Giants started three center fielders most nights. That turned out to be prescient.

Cain began the seventh by going 3-2 on Schafer. He tried to run a fastball in on his hands and it was ripped into the gap in right-center. Pagan had been shading Schafer toward left field and had no chance. Blanco was playing right field and immediately put his head down and took off for deep center. 

The ball was going to land nearly 400 feet away, much closer to center than right. But Blanco, just seconds earlier, had made a decision that gave him a glimmer of hope to make what ended up being one of the most memorable catches in MLB history. 

BLANCO: "I knew that any time Matt was going through a tough time -- and it wasn't too often -- but any time he needed a pitch he was going to throw that sinker. It was a 3-2 count and I knew he was going to throw that sinker so he could get a ground ball to second. So I was moving myself toward the gap a little bit before he threw that pitch. I had four or five steps in and I was thinking that if he hits this ball, he's going to hit it toward that gap. I was able to be a little closer."

KUIPER: "When it left the bat, it was like, 'Well that's perfectly placed between the center fielder and the right fielder, and that's going to be a double.'"

CRAWFORD: "I feel like the last 10 years, especially the last five years, so many guys play over there and it seems like a lot of hits are taken away now, but at that point, not as many outfielders were shading that gap. When it was hit, it was like, 'Oh, hopefully, it's high enough that it gets caught.' And then you kind of saw where it was going and you're like, 'There's no way.'"

CAIN: "It's over with. It's done. I look up and nobody is there, and then Blanco comes out of nowhere. It didn't make any sense."

BOCHY: "My first look was at Pagan to see what kind of jump he got and then I saw Blanco closing in on it. He just looked determined to make this catch."

KUIPER: "All of a sudden on the right side of your screen here comes a guy that's almost like a cartoon. It's like some Marvel character that comes flying in and he makes this unbelievable catch."

BOCHY: "It was such a beautiful play. The timing, the dive, laying out as hard as he did and when he hit, to also be able to hold onto the ball."

CRAWFORD: "Everybody watching the game probably had the same reaction, just how unbelievable it was that he got there."

KUIPER: "Prior to that catch, no right fielder had ever made a catch in that spot, in what really was center field. And nobody since that catch has made a play like Blanco did."

BLANCO: "That definitely changed my life. As soon as the game was over I had thousands of messages and when I got home I watched it over and over on ESPN and everywhere. I can't believe that I made that play. A year later I got to the park and was in the suites up above and looked at it and I was like, 'Man, I can't believe I was playing right field and made that catch.' But the intensity of the game makes you do it."

WOTUS: "I get emotional thinking about it. When that happened, you say,' This is really going to happen. This can happen.' There's always a great play, it seems like, in every no-hitter. When he made that play you kind of felt like something special was going on."

KUIPER: "When that happens, you really start to think that the guy on the mound is going to do this."

As the ballpark roared, Cain threw both his hands up in disbelief. He tipped his cap to Blanco and then went right back to work, striking out Altuve and then pulling the string on a nasty 3-2 changeup to get Lowrie. 

Cain was at 103 pitches as he strolled back to the dugout, where baseball's superstitions had long since taken over for his teammates. Well, for most of them.

You don't talk to a pitcher who is working on a no-hitter, and you certainly don't sit close to him in the dugout. But when Cain returned after the stressful seventh, he found Belt, in his second big league season, in his spot. Cain was amused, and a day later Belt admitted that it wasn't his first faux pas in that type of situation. In the minors, he once walked back into the dugout in the middle of a no-hitter and pointed out to teammates that there were a lot of zeros on the scoreboard.

CAIN: "I mean, it's kind of obvious. There's a towel. (Pitching coach Dave Righetti) would always lay out a towel. It was always there ... (Ryan Vogelsong) was like, 'What are you doing!' Belt was just completely oblivious, which now we know Belt and its standard for him. It was awesome."

BELT: "It wasn't funny at the time. I got the death stare from Cain and Vogey, but looking back on it, he might have gotten the perfect game because I sat there. I look at it as I think I'm good luck. But yeah, that was a scary moment for me, for sure. I thought Vogey was going to kill me."

Cain went back out for the eighth and immediately got a slow roller to third that Arias easily handled. Home plate umpire Ted Barrett offered a bit of an assist when Cain went 3-2 on Wallace and shaved the inside corner with a fastball, and Johnson followed with a grounder to short. It backed Crawford up to the edge of the grass, but he made a strong throw to Belt for the 24th out. 

That pitch was the 114th of Cain's night, which started to get him to an uncomfortable territory. Bochy was ready to let him to up to 130, maybe a bit more, but he also knew that if Cain gave up a hit, the staff needed to immediately make a move and protect one of the game's most valuable pitchers. 

But Bochy couldn't send a reliever to the bullpen, which was at that time located down the left field line, in clear view of any pitcher but especially a right-hander. The Giants found a clever workaround, asking reliever Shane Loux to go down to the batting cage behind the dugout to start getting loose. 

LOUX: "It's not meant for that at all. I didn't have 60 feet, there was netting everywhere. But it all happened so fast and there was so much adrenaline."

BOCHY, LAUGHING: "No, man, I hadn't done that before. But like everybody else during a perfect game, you're superstitious. Guys are sitting in the same place, they're staying away from Matt. I didn't want him to see us having somebody throwing in the bullpen. I didn't want him to change any part of his mindset that he might have out there."

WOTUS: "That's why players connected with him and they felt like he really cared about them. He understood the mindset of being a player and how those things could appear. Plus, he's so damn superstitious."

BOCHY: "I was probably a little superstitious."

LOUX: "It's funny because when you look back at that, I'm one of the only guys that's not in a jacket or a hoodie and that's because I was underneath in the batting cage throwing, or trying to throw. But I was glued to the TV like everyone else that was down there. I made like six or seven throws and then said screw it, I'll go watch like everybody else. Cain and I were close at the time and I wanted to be out there to see it live. I made an executive decision. I told Boch I was ready to go and I watched the rest of the game from the rail like everybody else."

It should be noted here that this isn't exactly legal. Otherwise, teams would always warm relievers up in secret and then surprise opposing managers. 

LOUX: "You absolutely have to show your relievers on the field. I know that, but nobody was thinking about that at the time. It was what was best for Matt. We probably could have argued I was just getting my arm loose and not actually warming up. Things get overlooked in a perfect game."

WOTUS: "It is illegal. But it was 10-0. I think everybody wants to see the perfect game over a legal warmup in a 10-0 game."

With Loux lightly warming up in secret, Cain took the mound and tried to remind himself to look around. Years earlier, a mental coach had told him to try and take in those moments, so he glanced around at an atmosphere that rivaled World Series games. 

The ninth opened with a fly ball to left that Cabrera easily tracked down along the line. "That was a relief, being like, alright, the first out in the ninth," Cain said. 

An hour after giving Cain a scare, Snyder flied out harmlessly to left for the 26th out. Since this was before the universal DH, the pitcher's spot came up for the final time, and Northern California native Jason Castro walked to the plate.

Cain went 1-2 on Castro and reached back for his best fastball. His 125th pitch was a 94 mph heater that Castro hit the other way. Arias, who earlier had moved over to replace Sandoval, fielded it cleanly but then briefly stumbled. 

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CRAWFORD: "At times, even though you know that he made the play, it's almost still like, 'Oh my gosh. Get rid of it!' But we know he made the play and everything was fine."

BELT: "There is a brief flash in your head right before you realize that he has the ball and he makes the throw. Did he get it? Did he fumble it? What happened? There was a little brief panic there but once he had the ball you knew it was going to be over."

CRAWFORD: "Belt likes to point out how good of a catch it was at first. I think it was a very routine catch, but with a perfect game, everything has to go perfect, so even the smallest things like making sure you catch the ball and making sure you have your foot on the bag, every little thing is a big deal."

KUIPER: "You can get an in-between hop at second and still knock it down and get the guy out. At third, you've got to throw all the way across the diamond, and not only did he get an in-between hope, he threw flat-footed. But he made a perfect strong throw. I don't think he gets enough credit for that play."

BOCHY: "We were close to (a perfect game) with (Jonathan) Sanchez and (Juan) Uribe made an error. So that was a great play by Urias, a tough play. To change positions, that was impressive."

WOTUS: "Sometimes you don't want to mess with the baseball gods. You don't want to make too many moves, but we thought it was the right thing with Arias at third obviously because of the range, and it worked out because I'm not sure if Pablo makes that play."

CRAWFORD: "I wonder if that play gets made today, just because it was a lefty and hit down the third base line, so it may have been a hit with the shift. Fortunately, he was there, and he got the out."

CAIN: "That was the only pitch that I completely let loose. I grunted. I wanted it to be a strikeout. I wanted it to be a strikeout and it almost bit me. I wanted to finish it in style and it's in style now."

KUIPER: "It was kind of a reward for all of the games that he pitched where nobody scored any runs. Like, alright, Matt, the baseball gods are going to give you this game where you're going to remember it for the rest of your life."

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