15 June 2012, 11:31 AM
First of all, Matt Cain. He’s really, really good. Last week, I happened to repeat my prediction that he will be the greatest pitcher ever to drop off the Hall of Fame Ballot after the first year. It’s kind of a joke. Sort of. Two years ago, it was easy to imagine an outstanding career, borderline Hall-worthy, ending in a won-lost record close to 145-160, no awards, very few Cy Young votes, and only two or three actual votes on the ballot. That’s less likely now, I would guess, with a perfect game to go along with his perfect 2010 post-season on the way to a World Series victory. I hope people do come to realize how good he is, although of course I will resent those latecomers as well. But seriously, guys. Matt Cain.
The other thing, though, is that as good as Matt Cain is, this was a fluke. The video clearly shows (a) a near homer, knocked down by the wind, (2) a called strike three that was about six inches high, and (iii) a ridonkulous catch by Gregor Blanco (the White Shark) in straightaway center field, which is particularly astonishing when you remember he was playing right field at the time. There was also a ball hit down the line that was called foul, that from what I have heard was actually foul but was close enough that it could have been called fair, and would have been a double. The twenty-seventh out was a bad-hop grounder that could have been beaten out. If any of those things is different, it’s not a perfect game.
Of course, that’s true of any perfect game. The difference between a perfect game and a not-perfect game is often something that’s outside of the pitcher’s control. A gust of wind, a fielder’s misplay, an umpire’s call. If, for instance, out third-baseman had bobbled the ball a little longer and the batter was safe at first, and then Matt Cain had struck out the twenty-eighth batter he faced, it would have been an even better pitching effort. But it wouldn’t have been a perfect game. A perfect game is a fluke.
What isn’t a fluke is that Matt Cain is very, very good—good enough that he put himself in a position where if a handful of flukes fell his way, it would be a perfect game. While any pitcher could, in theory, be the recipient of enough flukes and oddball things to wind up with a perfect game, in fact the pitcher has to be throwing very, very well. There was only one ball that needed to be knocked down by the wind, only one that needed to be an inch foul. Only one crazy superman catch in the outfield. You don’t have to be a great pitcher to throw a perfect game. But if you are a great pitcher, it’s a little less impossible.
As El Lefty Malo said: Tonight wasn’t the proof, it was the reward.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,