SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Cain walked into the clubhouse Saturday morning and found himself confronted by … Matt Cain. A whole lot of Matt Cain.
Every TV in the clubhouse was showing a Cain highlight reel filled with his postseason strikeouts, moments from early in his career, and the most memorable plays of his perfect game. Cain thought it was awkward. He also thought it was kind of cool. He snuck a peak for a few minutes before changing the channel on the television hanging over his locker. A few hours later, he surprised even himself when he added one last gem to a highlight reel full of them.
Cain went out with five shutout innings in the 331st and final start of his big league career. On a day full of emotion and ovations, he let the crowd and his teammates carry him to the finish line.
“I’m more than satisfied,” he said, his voice cracking at times. “I was kind of surprised to get that far into the game. I’m pretty proud of being able to go out there and throw five innings today, but that honestly was the excitement of the fans and my teammates pushing me along. That didn’t have anything to do with me. I was riding their wave.”
For so many years, the Giants let Cain keep them afloat. The 2002 draftee spent 13 seasons in the big leagues, helping build the base of the sport’s latest dynasty. Cain will forever be remembered in this ballpark for his durability, his postseason success, and the night he was perfect. But for his teammates, he’ll be remembered for much more than that. He was the consummate leader, a prankster who kept the room loose, a mentor, and a player credited with bringing title teams together. There might have been some doubt about how long Cain would last in his first appearance since August 31, but there was no doubt about the way he would be received after his final big league pitch.
“Guys were crying in the dugout,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s how much they care about the guy.”
So many parts of this day lined up perfectly. Cain spent days wondering if Ted Barrett, the home plate umpire for his perfect game, would be on this crew. When he got to the park Friday, he found that Barrett was indeed lined up for his final start. Barrett watched as Cain walked off the field for the final time, and in a fitting touch, Cain began and ended the celebration by hugging the two players who will now take over as the longest-tenured Giants.
Buster Posey was waiting for Cain at the dugout entrance, and he delivered one final Buster Hug. Madison Bumgarner was waiting at the end of the line of teammates. He wrapped Cain in a bear hug, lifting him off the ground. The two have been close friends since the moment Bumgarner burst into camp, when he asked Cain — the veteran — how to pitch to Manny Ramirez. Cain told him to throw heaters inside. Bumgarner promptly went out and repeatedly threw 96 on the hands. Cain remembered telling himself that he couldn’t wait to hand the reins over to the young lefty.
“I don’t think it could have been more fitting than to have Bum at the end of the line,” Cain said.
The moment came at the end of an inning because of a trait that Cain and Bumgarner are both known for. Physically spent, Cain dug deep to give Bochy just a couple more outs. His day had started with several standing ovations, and he said he rode adrenaline for the first couple of innings. By the third, he was relying on the lone voices that kept breaking through a crowd of 40,000.
“I could hear two or three guys for some reason, going, ‘Come on, Cainer!” he said.
In the dugout, teammates were whispering the same thing. Bochy tried to will him along, but he had Derek Law and Ty Blach warm up just in case. Bochy had originally hoped to pull Cain in the middle of an inning so he could soak in the cheers, but as Cain got through the fourth and into the fifth, he decided the right-hander deserved a shot at career win No. 105. When Cain walked Cory Spangenberg to lead off the fifth, that plan looked shot.
Bochy walked out to the mound, moving quickly to show Cain that a conversation would be had. The infielders gathered on the mound and Bochy asked Cain to be honest about how he felt.
“I think I can get another hitter or two,” he said.
Bochy walked back to the dugout, boos having turned to cheers. Cain looked in at Posey, knowing he had not been entirely truthful.
“I was done,” Cain said. “(But) I told him I could get a couple more outs.”
Cain struck out Austin Hedges and tried to do the same with a two-strike curveball to Jhoulys Chacin. The opposing pitcher rolled it over to short, putting the final touch on a career that lasted 2,085 and 2/3 innings.
Bochy met Cain at the top step of the dugout. He wanted the fans to know that Cain’s day was done and the celebration was on. The ovation lasted about a minute, with Cain putting an exclamation point on it by flinging his hat into the seats. He came back out for a curtain call after the hug with Bumgarner, tears filling his eyes.
What happened next was as predictable as Cain’s ability to gut through one final inning. The Giants blew a lead twice and lost 3-2 to the Padres. Cain finished his career 104-118, with 109 no-decisions as a starter. On many of those nights, he deserved much better.
The fact that Cain never complained about his situation is just a part of his legacy, and it’s a trait that has been passed on to a new generation of Giants pitchers. Bochy hopes Cain continues to teach those lessons, and the Giants expect him to have some kind of future role with the organization.
For now, Cain said he doesn't want to rush into anything. He wants to take a deep breath, take some time with his wife and kids, and figure out the next steps as they come. The organization will celebrate Cain throughout Sunday’s season finale, and he said he hopes to take the mic after the final pitch and thank the fans. It’s a lock that he’ll do it. Bochy said Cain can do whatever he wants on his final day in orange and black.
“He can manage if he wants,” Bochy said, smiling. “Honestly, I haven’t done too well.”