SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Cain tossed and turned and managed all of about four hours of sleep following his history-making gem for the Giants.
Cain’s perfect game will be remembered among the most masterful pitching performances in regular-season baseball history, if not ever.
San Francisco’s ace right-hander dominated the Houston Astros every which way Wednesday night in a 10-0 win for the 22nd perfect game ever and the fifth no-hitter already this year.
He struck out a career-best 14 batters, making up more than half of his 27 straight outs and tying Sandy Koufax for most Ks in a perfect game. Cain (8-2) threw 19 first-pitch strikes and never faced a 2-0 count in winning his career-high seventh straight start.
“I’m still pumped,” said Cain, who was back on the field playing catch with fellow starter Madison Bumgarner by 10:15 a.m. Thursday after a workout. “I haven’t really had a ton of time to sit down and look over stuff, see how it all happened. I don’t know that it has hit me yet, maybe when I can sit down and watch the highlights, go over the game.”
Add in a pair of improbable catches by Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco to preserve the bid, and Cain wound up with the first perfect game in the franchise’s storied 130-year history and its 14th no-hitter. It was the third this month, as Cain joined the Mets’ Johan Santana and a combined no-no by Seattle’s staff.
He threw 125 pitches — most ever in a perfect game — and 86 of those for strikes. Seven of his strikeouts were called. He didn’t shake off catcher Buster Posey even once. They were in sync on this memorable evening, all right.
“It’s something I always wanted to do since I was little, but it’s kind of a blur when it actually happens,” Cain said Thursday, when the Giants lost their series finale to Houston 6-3.
Cain followed up Bumgarner’s 12-strikeout night Tuesday, and they became the first Giants pitchers to record consecutive double-digit strikeout games since Vida Blue and John Montefusco in May 1978.
“Things like this bring a team together even more,” San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy said. “That’s the first one I’ve seen. It was an incredible night. Matt was going about it like a normal game. That last at-bat he sprinted to first base and I yelled, ‘Hey, take it easy.’ But he always plays the game hard.”
Team President and CEO Larry Baer and the rest of the brass must have been pinching themselves in delight that they decided to reward the two-time All-Star with a $127.5 million, six-year contract days before the season began — the richest for a right-hander.
The 27-year-old Cain showed glimpses of his potential for perfection in consecutive starts in mid-April. There was a one-hitter against Pittsburgh in the home opener, then nine shutout innings against Cliff Lee and the Phillies in a 1-0, 11-inning Giants victory his next time out — a memorable game in which the aces combined to throw 19 scoreless innings.
Yet even Giants Hall of Famers Carl Hubbell, Christy Mathewson, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry hadn’t accomplished what Cain did Wednesday.
Perry, who lives in the North Carolina mountain town of Spruce Pine, caught the replays when he woke up early Thursday. He’s thrilled the Giants have a perfecto at last.
“I’ll take that no-hitter I had, though,” Perry said with a laugh, taking a break Thursday from painting his horse barn. “I saw him in the spring and he was throwing well. He was just a strong young man and I expect great things out of him, maybe not another perfect game. I think he’ll be the first guy in many years to win 20 games for us. He has the fight in him, he has the stuff and he has the determination to do just that.”
Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox tossed the majors’ last perfecto at Seattle on April 21. This is the second time in three years there have been two perfect games in the same season — before that, the only other time it happened was in 1880.
And San Francisco pitching coach Dave Righetti was among the first to embrace Cain afterward. Righetti is the only other member of the team with a no-hitter after he stymied the rival Red Sox in a no-no for the New York Yankees on July 4, 1983.
Highlights of Cain’s latest brilliant outing were shown before Thursday afternoon’s series finale with Houston, and the pitcher received another warm ovation from his supporters at AT&T Park.
Cain’s cap, cleats, dirt from the mound, a ball and his uniform are being sent to Cooperstown. The umpires presented the pitcher with a game ball signed by all four of them. The Giants also replaced the pitching rubber and home plate and will keep those as mementos in San Francisco.
First baseman Brandon Belt made sure Cain got the game ball, quickly putting it in his back pocket after catching third baseman Joaquin Arias’ throw for the 27th and final out. Cain’s wife, Chelsea, hands clasped in front of her except when she clapped as he recorded each out, said “C’mon, c’mon” as Arias fielded pinch-hitter Jason Castro’s bouncer and exhaled when the throw across the diamond was on target.
“I think I watched video of the last out 15 times. It was pretty cool, an awesome feeling,” Belt said.
Left fielder Cabrera delivered the first save with his glove when he chased down Chris Snyder’s one-out flyball in the sixth at the wall that everybody in the ballpark figured was a home run. Then, right fielder Blanco sprinted into deep center for a diving catch on a hard hit drive by Jordan Schafer for the first out of the seventh.
Blanco came up holding the ball for all to see as fans in the sellout crowd of 42,298 jumped to their feet in celebration.
“I have watched it a lot, and I still don’t believe I made that play,” Blanco said Thursday.
Not since 1917 have there been five no-hitters in a season by mid-June. The only year that came close was 1990, when Fernando Valenzuela and Dave Stewart each pitched no-hitters on June 29 — the fourth and fifth of the season.
Of the 22 perfect games, half have come in the last 24 years. Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden each threw one two seasons ago, with Braden’s coming across the bay with the Oakland Athletics on Mother’s Day 2010. Braden was among those to offer congratulations to Cain on Twitter.
The Astros, who had a perfect game thrown against them for the first time, also got no-hit by Marichal on June 15, 1963.
Cain tried to keep it all in perspective the day after.
“The crazy thing is that in four more days I’ve got to pitch again,” he said. “Enjoy it, love that it happened. But I have to start thinking about pitching against the Angels on Monday. I’m trying to stay on a routine.”