Anatomy of perfection: Cain inning by inning


Anatomy of perfection: Cain inning by inning

SAN FRANCISCO How difficult, how elusive, how magicallyfated is a perfect game?

Consider this: Matt Cain struck out 14 batters on anunforgettable Wednesday night in China Basin. It matched Sandy Koufaxs iconicperformance in 1965 as the most strikeouts in a perfect game in history.

And yet Cain needed so much support, so many breaks, so muchluck and maybe even some angels breath.

Here is how it happened, inning by inning:

First inning: 11 pitches.

Cain likes to establish his fastball early and it was clearhe had plenty of late movement and cut and pinpoint control as he threwfour of them to strike out Jordan Schafer. He went fastball-curve-fastball tostrike out Jose Altuve. Jed Lowrie hit a foul pop.

Second inning: 12 pitches.

Before it became edge-of-the-seat stuff., Cain faced hisfirst three-ball count of the evening. Brett Wallace, a play in the Moneyballmold, fouled off a 3-1 fastball. Cain hadnt thrown either of his first twochangeups in the strike zone, but Buster Posey called for one. Wallace swungthrough it.

Third inning: 17 pitches.

Cain began to find a groove with his changeup and slider.Snyder and pitcher J.A. Happ took called third strikes on fastballs thatsnapped back across the zone. Umpire Ted Barrett was giving him the black, aspitchers call it. Cain had gone through the lineup once. Even at this earlyjuncture, he could sense he had it within himself to no-hit the Astros.

Fourth inning: 22 pitches

Schafer worked Cain for a 10-pitch at-bat that included fivetwo-strike fouls including one that came within a millimeter, as firstbaseman Brandon Belt saw it, of being a double down the line. Replays wereinconclusive; Belt said it definitely hit in front of the bag and was hookingsharply. Umpire Mike Muchlinski called it foul and Cain, now operating with afour-run lead after two-run homers by Melky Cabrera and Belt, stayedaggressive. He only threw one ball among the 10 pitches to Schafer, who finallyswung through a fastball. Little Jose Altuve, all 5-foot-5 of him, didnt getany breaks on the zone. Barrett rang him up on a third strike above theletters.

Fifth inning: 14 pitches
Two more strikeouts. One ball in play, to second basemanRyan Theriot. Moving along

Sixth inning: 10 pitches

With 76 pitches through five innings, Cain needed an economyframe. He got it here. Bruian Bogusevic took a fastball for a third strike,then Snyder flied out to left field on the first pitch. And what a fly out itwas. The ball was crushed to left field but appeared to hang in the cool nightair, and left fielder Melky Cabrera jumped at the wall as he made the catch.Said center fielder Angel Pagan: I had the best view. The ball wasnt goingout. It was out. Then it cut back. That ball was 10 rows deep. I've never seen that before, a ball come back like that. Once I saw that playCain received another contribution from catcher Posey, who blocked acurveball that struck out pinch hitter Brian Bixler. Posey threw to first basefor the out. Remember, it isnt perfect unless its a no-reach game.
Seventh inning: 17 pitches

For the first time since the second inning, and just thesecond time in the game, Cain went to a three-ball count. He missed with acurve and fastball before coming back with another that broke right toSchafers barrel. Gregor Blanco, who had shifted toward the gap on Schafer,raced back to the track in right-center nearly 410 feet from home plate andleft his feet while making a catch at the track that nobody could believe. AsCain later asked him, What were you even doing there? Now, much like Aaron Rowandscatch in Jonathan Sanchezs no-hitter in 2010, history appeared to be the workof fate. But those final seven outs wouldnt come easily. Cain missed on aslider to run the count full against Lowrie, then came back with his hardestfastball of the night on his 101st pitch -- at 94 mph. Lowriefouled it off. Posey had the guts to call for a changeup and Cain didnthesitate, throwing one that was written in disappearing ink as it flutteredpast Lowries swing.

Eighth inning: 11 pitches

In the seventh, Giants manager Bruce Bochy took PabloSandoval out, inserted Brandon Crawford at shortstop and moved Joaquin Arias tothird base. An inning before that, he substituted Emmanuel Burriss at secondbase for Theriot. The earlier move was designed to give Theriot a rest and getBurriss some playing time in a blowout game. But the changes in the seventh hadperfection in mind. They paid off in the eighth, as Martinez hit a slow rollerthat Arias charged and threw accurately on the run. Next came another three-ballcount. It was Wallace again, who didnt bite on two 1-2 sliders. Cain came backwith his simplest, best pitch a challenge fastball and Wallace shook hishead after Barrett hit the cash register. With Cain just four outs away, ChrisJohnson hit a tricky, topspin hopper to short. It was the kind of ball that hadeaten up Crawford so many times in April and early May, and he was cold off thebench. But he backed up to make sure he wasnt caught in between hops, thenmade a clean pickup, transfer and throw.

Ninth inning: 11 pitches

This was it. It was real, all of it. Bochy didnt dare put areliever on the bullpen mound, but he had Shane Loux secretly warming up in thebatting cage, ready to enter the moment Cain gave up a hit. That did nothappen. Bogusevic lifted a 2-2 fastball to left field. Cabrera raced over tocatch it near the line. Snyder lifted a 1-0 fastball. Cabrera barely had tomove to catch it. Pinch hitter Jason Castro was last. Cain worked the count inhis favor, 1-2. Then he threw one final fastball on his 125th pitch again, at 94 mph, matching his hardest of the night. Castro almost slapped itout of Poseys glove. Arias was there to field it, and he appeared to nearlylose his balance. Finally, he set his feet just enough, and with his body stillfalling away from first base, he fired the throw of his life that hit Beltsglove on a line. It was instant euphoria. It was history. It was the 22ndperfect game in baseball history, and the first by a Giant in the franchises129-year existence.

Cains first reaction, to Bochy, was This is stupid.

Sweetly, blessedly, unforgettably stupid.

Report: Two Giants hitters elect free agency


Report: Two Giants hitters elect free agency

With free agency set to begin five days after the World Series ends, two hitters that played for the Giants during the 2017 season have put their names on the open market.

Veteran third baseman Conor Gillaspie and longtime minor league outfielder Carlos Moncrief have both elected for free agency, according to Baseball America.

The 30-year-old Gillaspie appeared in 44 games for the Giants this past season. He hit just .168/.218/.288 with four doubles, two home runs and eight RBI. He was designated for assignment on August 3 and outrighted to Triple-A Sacramento on August 5. With the River Cats, Gillaspie hit .375 with four doubles in 15 games in August.

Prior to the 2017 season, Gillaspie signed a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Giants.

As for Moncrief, the soon-to-be 29-year-old finally got his first call-up the majors this past season after eight and a half seasons in the minors. He debuted for the Giants on July 29. In 28 games, he hit .211/.256/.237 with one double and five RBI. While he didn't do much with the bat, Moncrief showed off a cannon for an arm when he patrolled right field.

Giants reassign pitching coach Dave Righetti, two other coaches


Giants reassign pitching coach Dave Righetti, two other coaches

SAN FRANCISCO — Late in a 98-loss season, general manager Bobby Evans met with members of the coaching staff to discuss new roles. The shakeup of the staff ended up being a stunning one. 

Pitching coach Dave Righetti was one of three coaches to be reassigned Saturday morning. After 18 seasons as pitching coach, Righetti will now serve as special assistant to the general manager. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner was given a “special assignment role to assist in pitching evaluations.” Assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will be a special assistant for baseball operations. 

The moves cap a 13-month run in which the coaching staff has taken much of the blame for a $200 million roster that was poorly constructed in places and played embarrassing baseball for long stretches of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Third base coach Roberto Kelly was let go after the 2016 season and first base coach Billy Hayes was reassigned. More changes appear on the way. 

“It does raise the level of attention to change when you struggle as much as we have, but you’re always contemplating making changes to try to help keep pushing your guys and make sure you continue to have different perspectives and new voices and reflections on how to get the most out of them,” Evans said on a conference call. 

Throughout September, multiple coaches expressed concern about their future roles, but the Giants held off several weeks before announcing changes. At least two members of the staff were involved in managerial searches elsewhere, and third base coach Phil Nevin is reportedly still a candidate for the open job in Philadelphia. 

Evans confirmed that he has interviewed outside candidates for a hitting coach role, but he would not go so far as to say Hensley Meulens will be reassigned as well. He also would not speak to the future of Ron Wotus, although the longtime bench coach is expected to be mixed up in future changes as well. Evans indicated he would announce further moves after all the open managerial vacancies are filled.

For now, the Giants are in the process of trying to find a new pitching coach. They are focused on experienced outside candidates, and they have plenty of options, as several other teams have made changes this month. Evans hinted that he wants the next pitching coach to have a more analytical approach. 

Righetti's replacement will have massive shoes to fill. His run was the longest for a pitching coach in franchise history. The Giants, usually so reliant on pitching, finished 16th in the Majors with a 4.50 ERA, but it’s hard to see how Righetti takes the blame for that. Madison Bumgarner missed a chunk of the season after a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto had a brutal injury-plagued year, Matt Moore battled himself and had the worst ERA in the National League, and the bullpen struggled, with closer Mark Melancon pitching through an injury that required season-ending surgery. 

Righetti was credited with helping to develop a rotation and bullpen that won three titles, and the bond he shared with pitchers was on display during the final weekend of the year, when Matt Cain talked repeatedly about their close relationship and went straight for Righetti after he came off the field for the final time. While it’s often hard to figure out where to give credit, even in a down year for the staff, Righetti played a role in Sam Dyson’s resurgence, and he helped Ty Blach and Chris Stratton break in as big league regulars. 

“Ultimately a change for us in the clubhouse is really an opportunity just to put a new voice with our pitching staff and try to keep pushing to the heights that we aspire as an organization and a club,” Evans said. “Changes sometimes are needed as much for the sake of that new voice as anything, and I think that was really the priority here.”

Righetti will help Evans in a front office role. Evans admitted that Righetti’s “heartbeat is in uniform as a coach,” but said he was willing to take on a new role for an organization he loves. 

Gardner, a former Giants pitcher, had been on staff since 2003. He will now help to evaluate pitchers inside and outside the organization, and Evans said Gardner could serve an important role in evaluating trade options. Decker joined the big league staff in 2015 after a long run working in the minor leagues. The 2017 season was his 23rd with the organization. He will have a “blank canvas,” Evans said, working in different roles inside the organization. Decker will also help with draft preparation.