What covering Matt Cain's 2012 perfect game for Giants was like

What covering Matt Cain's 2012 perfect game for Giants was like

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:

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.

MLB opt-out tracker: Every player who has declined to play 2020 season

MLB opt-out tracker: Every player who has declined to play 2020 season

It's extremely common to hear about a player opting out in baseball. Stars have often had opt-out clauses for the final year of their deals, and in recent years many have given themselves the ability to opt out after just a year or two of a massive contract. At the end of every spring, non-roster invitees opt out to look for a better opportunity elsewhere. 

But this season, those two words take on a different meaning. 

Under a March agreement reached by MLB and the Players Association, high-risk players can opt out of the 2020 because of coronavirus concerns and still get paid. Players who are not deemed to be at a high risk can also opt out while surrendering their 2020 salaries and service time.

On the first day of the week MLB was set to return, four players opted out. Here's a rundown of where the list currently stands:

Mike Leake (Diamondbacks starting pitcher)

The 32-year-old was the first to publicly make his intentions known. Leake's agent told reporters that the right-hander "took countless factors into consideration, many of which are personal to him and his family." There has been some speculation that Leake had family concerns; his father was paralyzed in an accident a few years ago and that's in part why he ended up close to home with the Diamondbacks.

Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals first baseman)

Zimmerman is exactly the type of player you would think of when it comes to guys who had a difficult decision to make in recent weeks. He's 35 and now is a part-time player, and he's set for life financially and got his ring last October. In a statement put out by his agency, he made it clear this is about concerns for his family, which includes a mother with multiple sclerosis:

Joe Ross (Nationals starting pitcher)

Ross, a 27-year-old Bay Area native who is the younger brother of Tyson, also opted out Monday. He did not immediately release a statement. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said Zimmerman and Ross decided "not to participate in the 2020 season for the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones. We are 100 percent supportive of their decision to not play this year."

Ian Desmond (Rockies outfielder)

The 34-year-old announced his decision at the end of a series of Instagram posts that examined injustices in baseball and society. It was a powerful statement, and one you should read in full here:

View this post on Instagram

On my mind.

A post shared by Ian Desmond (@i_dez20) on

Tyson Ross (free agent starting pitcher)

It was a bit of a surprise when Ross was released by the Giants last week. As a veteran who could start or come out of the bullpen, he seemed like a good fit for what they were building in March, and an even better fit in a season with no true five-man rotation. But this seems to explain the decision: 

David Price (Dodgers Pitcher)

The biggest name in MLB to this date to withdraw, Price announced his decision to opt out of the 2020 season on social media during the holiday weekend. The southpaw didn't get specific on the reasoning behind it, but said the decision was in the "best interest of my health and my family's health." 

Felix Hernandez (Braves pitcher)

Another former Cy Young award winner has decided not to play during the 2020 MLB season.

Felix Hernandez, who won the 2010 AL Cy Young while with the Seattle Mariners, won't suit up for the Atlanta Braves this season, he agent tweeted Saturday night.

After spending the first 15 seasons of his career with the Mariners, Hernandez signed a minor-league contract with Atlanta this offseason. He will turn 35 next April, when the 2021 MLB season is expected to start.

Giants have 'golden opportunity' in 2020 season, Mike Krukow believes

Giants have 'golden opportunity' in 2020 season, Mike Krukow believes

The Giants aren't expected to contend for an MLB playoff spot this season, but don't tell that to Mike Krukow.

The Giants broadcaster believes the team has a chance to surprise people due to the shortened season.

"It's a golden opportunity," Krukow said during a conversation this week with NBC Sports Bay Area's Kelli Johnson and broadcast partner Duane Kuiper. "If you look at the Giants, they're one of the older teams in baseball. What older teams have learned, especially ones that have been champions, they learn the importance of chemistry, they learn the importance of a good attitude, and I think that is going to be paramount when they gather up."

While the Giants are focused on building for the future, they still have several integral players from their three World Series title teams from the last decade. Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval remain. They are flanked by veterans Evan Longoria, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. And Hunter Pence is back for a second tour of duty in San Francisco.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

But those veterans and the rest of the Giants have to get used to a whole new world. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, players have to adjust their routines.

"There are going to be so many things that are going to be unorthodox, that they're not used to, that are complete breaks of the routine of a normal day that you have in a normal season of Major League Baseball," Krukow said. "It's really going to be important for them to overcome them with a good attitude. Whoever finds chemistry first is going to have the advantage."

Spring training isn't the best indicator of what a team will be for the upcoming season, but the Giants had a 13-16 record before the coronavirus put a stop to activities. Despite that record, Krukow and Kuiper liked what they saw from the club in March.

[RELATED: Giants would support Posey opting out]

"We thought the Giants had a great spring training," Krukow said. "We thought there really was a nice foundation that was being laid of a positive vibe, and I think because of their experience, I think they have an opportunity here. If they get off with a good vibe, if they get off to a good start, it's a sprint. They could be in the playoffs. And once they get into the playoffs, who knows what can happen. So I'm excited about it. I think the players are excited about it. And it's a golden opportunity."

The Giants reportedly are expected to open the 60-game season July 23 in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, who are favorites to win the World Series. It's not the easiest way for the Giants to start the season, but if they can take a couple games from their arch rivals, that could set the tone for a surprising season.