In the summer of 2009, my brother and I attended a game where Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants threw a no-hitter. He struck out 11 batters, did not walk anyone, and allowed only one base runner, on an error. It was the first no-hitter by a Giants pitcher in several decades, and it will be forever remembered by Giants fans.
On Opening Day this season, my son Neal and I witnessed a terrific pitching performance from Matt Cain. Cain struck out 12 batters, did not walk anyone, and allowed just a single hit, like Sanchez facing 28 batters overall, one more than the minimum. People talked about it for a bit, and then moved on, because one-hitters are not the same as no-hitters.
Last night, Neal and his wife Sonia went out to the ballpark. Matt Cain was even better than he’d been on Opening Day. He struck out 14 batters, did not walk anyone, did not allow any hits, and his defense committed no errors. Cain faced 27 batters, and retired them all, for a perfect game.
You don’t see perfection very often. You can’t get used to it, because it comes so rarely. One nice thing about baseball, though, is that when perfection occurs, people recognize it. I suspect we’ve all done something perfect in our lives, but it likely passed unnoticed, even by ourselves. But when a pitcher throws a perfect game, all fans are aware of that perfection.
And so, the day after, you’ll find all sorts of fascinating commentary about what had occurred. And this is precisely because of the rarity. You might run out of things to say about a one-hitter, but perfection is bottomless.
So … today, Neal wondered, after all the games we’ve been to together over the years, “How is it possible we've both attended games with no hits or walks and neither have been together?” The answer is that these things happen so rarely, it’s even more rare for two people to share the experience in person. On Opening Day, together, we saw near perfection. That’s rare enough right there.
How rare was last night’s game? It was only the 22nd perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball, and baseball’s been around since the 19th century. The Giants as a franchise have been part of professional baseball since 1883, making this their 130th season. They have had a lot of great pitchers in those 130 years, including several who were inducted into the Hall of Fame. But Matt Cain’s perfect game was the first ever thrown by a Giant in all those 130 years.
This is why people want to talk about it, figure it out, relive it. From the moment the 27th out was recorded, our brains started recreating what our memories would be in the future. ESPN’s headline asked, “Did Matt Cain throw greatest game ever?” The numbers were deconstructed … how many fastballs, how many off-speed pitches, how fast were those fastballs in the ninth inning compared to the first inning, and, of course, how did Cain’s performance compare to prior greats (rule of thumb for baseball pitching: if you are being compared to Sandy Koufax, you are already in elevated company).
My memories are based on what I saw via television. I can remember being at the Sanchez no-hitter, and Neal telling me later all of the things they were featuring on the telecast. This time, he was there, and I was watching. So he felt the crowd, and I can tell you, there’s nothing like it. But I got to watch Cain’s wife, Chelsea, watching the final play unfold, mouthing “c’mon c’mon c’mon” as if she could wish the ball into the first baseman’s mitt. I got to listen to Duane Kuiper’s call (and I don’t know how it was scheduled in the pre-game, but Hall of Fame announcer Jon Miller was also in the booth … my guess is, in a normal game, Miller would call the final inning … I just picture him telling Kuip, “this one’s yours, buddy”).
You want rarity? There have only been 22 perfect games. Duane Kuiper was the announcer for #22. In 1981, he was the second baseman for the Cleveland Indians the night Len Barker threw a perfect game. I’d say Duane Kuiper recognizes perfection.