Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area will air Matt Cain’s perfect game at 7 p.m. Sunday. Below is Giants insider Alex Pavlovic’s memories of covering the game.
I should have known better.
Matt Cain, five days removed from a perfect game, had just been presented a samurai sword from a Mizuno representative, and he agreed to take some questions from a crowd of reporters despite the fact he was starting that night. There are broadcasters who go out of their way to avoid talking about a no-hitter, and even a simple tweet pointing out that a pitcher is perfect through three innings will draw the ire of a large chunk of the fan base. There isn't a sport that takes jinxes more seriously than baseball, and yet there I was, a few hours before Cain's first start after perfection, foolishly asking him if he had thought about how long it had been since he had allowed a baserunner.
Cain smiled and noted that there are some things you don't ask a pitcher, and then he politely pointed out that he was holding a sword. I laughed nervously and shrunk into my notebook, suddenly eager for the media availability to end.
Today I'm well past 1,000 games as a beat writer. Whenever this season starts, it'll be my ninth covering the Giants, and I don't think there's much I haven't seen at this point. Just in that 2012 season alone, Cain's perfect game was followed by Buster Posey's MVP run, Melky Cabrera's suspension, that comeback in Cincinnati, #RallyZito, and ultimately a World Series title. By the end of October I felt like I had been covering the sport for years.
But on June 13, I still was the Mercury News' interim beat writer. I had been covering high school sports four months earlier, and I still was trying to figure out how to get through every night in a MLB press box. I asked some dumb questions, I walked into rooms I wasn't supposed to, I got locked inside more than one road ballpark late at night. I sent tweets that aged poorly:
Matt Cain is going to hit drives into McCovey Cove three hours before his start. I'm sure Brian Sabean is enjoying this.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) June 13, 2012
There was a steep learning curve, and as Cain started to tick off one quick inning after the next, I frantically tried to figure out how one covers a perfect game. Ultimately it all worked out. My game story was well received, and a few days later a memo went out naming me the newspaper's Giants beat writer.
But there's another version of that story that never saw the light of day.
For five innings on June 13, 2012, I thought I was watching just another baseball game. I spent some time working on a notes story that could be sent in before my early deadline, but in the sixth inning I closed that file and started a new story, one detailing Cain's historic night and Gregor Blanco's diving catch.
[RELATED: How Bruce Bochy managed historic nights]
I never deleted that original story, and I thought about it when my boss told me NBC Sports would air Cain's perfect game tonight and asked me what it was like covering that game. I think this story is a fun trip down memory lane, a look at what was going on during a random June day for the 2012 Giants.
And it's a reminder of something I learned that night and try to never forget when I walk into the press box. You never quite know how a night at the ballpark is going to end up ...
SAN FRANCISCO -- In Matt Cain’s bid for his seventh consecutive victory, he got plenty of early run support. Melky Cabrera opened the scoring with a two-run homer in the first and Brandon Belt’s second-inning blast made it 4-0. The Giants tacked on four more on a variety of hard-hit balls before Gregor Blanco made it 10-0 with a two-run homer in the fifth.
It was the fifth homer in two days for the Giants, who entered the series with just six homers at AT&T Park this season.
Cabrera provided a defensive boost with one out in the sixth, when Chris Snyder hit a ball deep to left field that appeared headed into the stands. But the damp air at AT&T Park knocked the ball down and Cabrera made a leaping catch just inches in front of the fence.
--- Belt had an air of confidence when he walked into AT&T Park on Wednesday, just a few hours after hitting his first homer of the season. Asked if he was about to get on a roll, Belt replied: “I tend to hit homers in bunches.”
Yes, apparently he does.
Belt homered in his first at-bat Wednesday night, taking Houston Astros left-hander J.A. Happ deep to center field. A night earlier he had hit an offering from southpaw Wesley Wright into McCovey Cove.
Belt had just 18 at-bats against left-handers entering this series, but manager Bruce Bochy indicated that he’s about to get a whole lot more.
“This will be good for him,” Bochy said. “He’ll benefit from playing more. It’s been tough with the first basemen we’ve had and we’ve been trying to get matchups. But Brandon’s playing time will pick up.”
Belt has tweaked his swing in recent weeks in an effort to maintain a more consistent approach at the plate. The home run he hit to right field Tuesday was exactly the kind of at-bat the Giants were hoping to see from their young first baseman, but not because of the result. The Giants have simply been looking for Belt to string good at-bats together, as he has done throughout this series.
“Hopefully that gets me going,” Belt said.
With Belt settling in at first base, the lineup appears to be nearly set for the first time all season.
Bochy hit Pablo Sandoval sixth Wednesday night, a spot behind Angel Pagan. He said the alignment against left-handed pitchers is one he hopes to keep for the rest of the season.
“It was going well with Pagan hitting fifth,” Bochy said. “I’m not going to tweak it too much.”
--- Golfer Dustin Johnson was joined by Giants special assistant J.T. Snow and pitchers Clay Hensley and Cain in a pregame driving exhibition that sent plenty of golf balls sailing into McCovey Cove.
Johnson hit drives with Hensley and Snow before Cain was goaded into taking a swing.
Cain looked to general manager Brian Sabean, sitting in the stands, for approval. “If you’re hitting, I’m not going to watch,” Sabean said to Cain, who signed a $127.5 million contract extension before the season.
Cain, who hit a drive 342 yards at February’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, stepped up and hit a mammoth blast off a tee that had been placed on home plate.
“One swing was enough,” Bochy said.
Cain threw the game’s first pitch three hours later.