Why Matt Cain's perfect game is 'North Star' of 2010s Giants dynasty


Why Matt Cain's perfect game is 'North Star' of 2010s Giants dynasty

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area will air Matt Cain’s perfect game at 7 p.m. Sunday. Below are Giants broadcasters Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow and Amy Gutierrez's memories of that historic night.

Mike Krukow usually has one of the best seats in the house at Oracle Park. He did not on June 13, 2012.

The Giants broadcaster drove up from his offseason home in San Luis Obispo that day after attending to family matters, listening to his colleagues call San Francisco's game against the Houston Astros on the radio. He returned to his King Street apartment near the ballpark around the third inning, sitting down with his wife to watch the game and pouring himself a glass of scotch.

Krukow watched -- and heard -- history unfold over the next few hours, taking in Matt Cain's perfect game from a unique perspective.

"It was unbelievable because every time something happens ... the place would go nuts," Krukow recalled in a phone conversation Sunday morning. "It got to the end of the game, and we were seeing it with a little bit of a delay as to how it was actually happening."

Out by out, inning by inning, Krukow heard Giants fans' anticipation build, culminating with Jason Castro's groundout to third baseman Joaquin Arias in the ninth inning.

"It was just a remarkable night," Krukow said. "It was so cool to hear the actual crowd roar from across the street. It just enhanced the whole thing for us."

Krukow, play-by-play broadcaster Duane Kuiper and dugout reporter Amy Gutierrez reflected on that night ahead of NBC Sports Bay Area's re-air of Cain's perfect game. Here's what they remember most.

Un-fore-gettable start

Cain's game-day preparation began with a swing and a splash hit. The Giants ace didn't belt a batting-practice home run, though.

PGA Tour golfer Dustin Johnson was at the ballpark that night to promote the upcoming U.S. Open, and Cain -- an avid golfer -- watched on as Johnson drove balls into McCovey Cove. Cain, as the night's starter, presumed he couldn't participate.

"But he's out there, and he's watching and he's just dying," Kuiper recalled. "He doesn't think he's going to out-drive Dustin Johnson, but he wants to let one fly. He's inching close and closer to where they're doing this, and (then-Giants general manager) Brian Sabean is sitting in the stands, all by himself. And finally somebody says to Matt Cain, 'Hey, just ask Brian if you can hit one!' "

Sabean begrudgingly approved, and Cain then stepped up to the tee set up at home plate.

"And he got out there, and he smoked one into the cove," Kuiper said. "I don't think he hit any as far as Dustin Johnson, but he hit it as far as most guys on the Tour would hit it, if not even further."

Cain had permission for one swing, and he made the most of it. It proved to be a tone-setter for his night to come, even if those watching his impressive drive didn't realize it at the time.

"It was very telling of the day he was going to have," Gutierrez said. "Everything he touched that day to turned to gold."

Things get real

Kuiper said the perfect-game possibility entered his mind around the fifth inning, while Gutierrez pointed to the sixth inning. She was visting a friend and his wife who were in attendance when Melky Cabrera made the first of two game-changing catches that night.

Cabrera tracked down Chris Snyder's warning-track fly ball in left-center field, leaping in front of the outfield wall to get the second out of the inning.

Gutierrez, then, knew she needed to be on alert.

"I told my friends, 'I gotta go. This might be turning into something.' " she recalled. "I knew he had zeros and I knew he was having a really good night, but you don't put much into it because it's so rare."

Krukow heard the crowd get louder going into the seventh inning. They might have reached a crescendo during it.

With a full count in the top of the seventh, Jordan Schafer drove a ball into right-center destined to be the Astros' first hit of the night. Right fielder Gregor Blanco had a better jump on the ball than center fielder Angel Pagan, sprinting and laying out for an unforgettable catch.

Krukow didn't need to catch up to the broadcast feed to know what had happened.

"We had the door wide open, so we could hear it well and we knew something was gonna happen," he said. "On the catch from Blanco and then the last play of the game from Joaquin Arias, it was just obvious."

Matt Cain with his wife, Chelsea, and daughter, Harley Mae, before a Giants game soon after his no-hitter. (Photo: AP Images/Jeff Chiu)

Family business

Krukow didn't mind the spoilers, but Cain's wife, Chelsea, could have used them. Watching from the stands, cameras consistently captured her reactions as her husband made his way through the 27 batters he faced.

Gutierrez said the then-CSN Bay Area broadcast crew sought out Chelsea because of experience from covering Johnathan Sanchez's no-hitter three years prior. Sanchez's father had flown in from Puerto Rico for that game, watching his son play for the first time and offering something instantly relatable to all viewers that Chelsea Cain's experience also provided: Seeing your loved ones succeed.

"Now you can understand, there's a relationship going on," Gutierrez said. "You're watching your husband perform. He's looking up at you in the stands, and it all of a sudden became something tangible for anyone watching the game. You didn't have to be a die-hard baseball fan.

"You just kind of had to be a fan of somebody accomplishing a miraculous feat, and we can kind of all get on the same page with that."

Gutierrez said she felt the crowd "white-knuckling" after Cabrera's sixth-inning catch, but arguably nobody at Oracle Park that night wore more emotions on their sleeve than Chelsea Cain. She joined her husband for his post-game interview with Gutierrez, and Krukow was gripped watching just down the street.

"I thought that was so cool," he said. "And in the end, when he got the last out and he was walking on the field, their eyes met and you could see that he was looking to find her and she found him. ... It was just so well done, and so honest and sincere."

A fitting honor

It's not often a pitcher throws a perfect game, and it's not often that Cain received any kind of run support. The Giants scored 10 runs that night, far more than the four or so they averaged in Cain's 331 career starts.

That irony is not lost on Kuiper.

"[If] a Giants starting pitcher threw great and they got no runs for him, then the expression was that he got 'Cained.' " Kuiper quipped. "So, that gives you an idea of how significant it was that he did this. [I'm not] saying it wiped out all those games where he pitched great and didn't get any run support, but it sure did help."

Gutierrez and Krukow loved seeing Cain etch his name in baseball history for that reason, too, but the long-suffering ace did something no Giants pitcher had before or since. Cain's 125-pitch, 14-strikeout performance was the first perfect game in the franchise's century-plus history. None of the broadcast crew said so in as many words that night, dreading a jinx, but understanding that kind of history was at play stopped Gutierrez in her tracks when a producer informed her of the possibility.

"I think you dream of doing something like that, but you don't really look up the stats," Gutierrez said. "Like, 'I wonder how many perfect games there have been in Giants franchise history.' He just went about his job. So, I think it made that moment for him just that much bigger and that much more special.

"And it's really, really cool that that honor goes to Matt because I can't think of a better 'Forever Giant' in my career."

[RELATED: Cain's perfect game taught our Giants insider many lessons]

"The North Star"

Cain's perfect game occurred right in the middle of the most successful stretch in Giants history. They were months away from winning their second of three World Series that decade, and just shy of two years removed from their first.

Yet each of Kuiper, Krukow and Gutierrez said that June night holds a special place in their memories. Kuiper won't forget seeing the normally reserved Cain emotionally celebrating with his wife and family, while Gutierrez called it "an honor" to be a part of the game's broadcast.

Krukow, meanwhile, didn't hesitate in identifying Cain's perfect game as the high point of the Giants' dynastic run.

"It's the North Star in the sky," he said. "It's something that is so cool, and to have it happen ... at home, to have it happen when Cain was on the mound. All those things were such a big part of the story. ... At that time, it was always a sellout. The culture had grown to the point where it was a phenomenon anyway, and then to have this thing go down and actually complete the perfect game, it was a perfect storm.

"It lined up perfectly, and it was -- and always will be -- the North Star of that era."

Giants scrimmage notes: Johnny Cueto named Opening Day starter again

Giants scrimmage notes: Johnny Cueto named Opening Day starter again

The last thing Giants manager Gabe Kapler did before the coronavirus shut down the sport was name Johnny Cueto his Opening Day starter. Four months later, that remains the case. 

After Cueto got past 60 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday, Kapler said he had a long conversation with the right-hander and Cueto will start against the Dodgers next Thursday in a nationally-televised game. 

Cueto, of course, had already made this official:

That was some of the news of the day. Here's more from the five-inning game at Oracle Park between Team Black and Team Orange, along with some updates from Kapler: 

--- The highlight of the game was Alex Dickerson's bomb to right off Shaun Anderson:

--- Tyler Heineman put a bunt down and also stole third for the second time in a week. He continues to make an impression in the battle for the starting catcher job, and Kapler has spent a fair amount of time after workouts talking about the little things Heineman does well. 

--- Triples Alley is six feet shorter, but it's still an easy triple for Steven Duggar. He lined one out there with two runners on and cruised into third standing up even though Joe McCarthy got to the ball pretty quickly. Two runs scored. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

--- Joey Bart had a hard single to right in his first at-bat, but his most impressive feat came two pitches earlier. On the first pitch he saw from hard-throwing righty Rico Garcia, Bart smacked a liner to right that bounced off the bricks where the Alaska Airlines suite is located in foul territory down the line. He was about 10 feet away from an opposite-field double off the archway, which is a pretty solid feat for a right-hander at Oracle Park. 

Bart has as strong an opposite-field approach as you'll see from a young hitter, and he's not afraid of the ballpark, which generally favors right-handers who pull the ball. When he's up here, you're going to see a few of those rare right-handed-homers into the arcade. 

That's the future. Here's the present, and his single:

--- The news is all good on the health front. Brandon Belt was out of his walking boot and took some swings. Tony Watson threw a second live BP session and Kapler said he's "progressing towards being ready for us" next week against the Dodgers. Jarlin Garcia, who has been on the IL for undisclosed reasons, should be back in camp tomorrow. Garcia was having a huge spring and would be a key lefty in the bullpen if ready. There is nothing new on Billy Hamilton, though. 

--- The Giants added outfielder Jose Siri to their player pool. The 24-year-old is a former Reds prospect the Giants picked up earlier this year, in part because hitting coach Donnie Ecker -- formerly with the Reds -- liked his potential. "He was a guy with a high ceiling for the Reds and a prospect there with tools and athleticism and power," Kapler said. 

[RELATED: As Puig signs with Braves, Giants stay focused on next wave]

--- Every day there's a new thing you notice about a park with no fans. Today the media could clearly make out the conversations on the infield, which were all happening in Spanish for Team Orange. Wilmer Flores (Venezuela), Donovan Solano (Colombia) and Mauricio Dubon (Honduras) were at first, second and third, with Cueto (Dominican Republic) pitching to Chad Tromp (Aruba). Evan Longoria was at third, but seemed to be following along. It was pretty cool to watch.

Kapler mentioned earlier this week that one advantage Tromp has over the other catchers is his ability to more easily communicate with the team's Spanish-speaking pitchers. Cueto was followed on the mound by Wandy Peralta, who is also from the Dominican Republic. 

Giants forgoing Yasiel Puig sweepstakes has team focusing on next wave

Giants forgoing Yasiel Puig sweepstakes has team focusing on next wave

A few minutes after word leaked that Yasiel Puig will sign with the Braves, a hitting group took the field at Oracle Park that showed exactly why he wasn't necessary in San Francisco this year. 

Mike Yastrzemski took his swings with Darin Ruf, who has been a camp revelation and is being counted on to fill the role of right-handed masher in the lineup this season. Yastrzemski, though, is the one who really is indicative of why the Giants are keeping it in-house as the season approaches. 

The Giants did something simple with Yastrzemski last year. They gave him a chance. 

Yastrzemski, 107 games and 21 homers later, might now be Farhan Zaidi's best big leaguer, and the hope with the front office is that the 2019 discovery is just the start. 

Yastrzemski is likely to be an everyday player for Gabe Kapler, and the Giants are hopeful that Jaylin Davis, 26, joins him. Mauricio Dubon, 25, looks headed for a meaty role in the outfield, too, and 27-year-old Austin Slater is going to get another look. The staff also likes Joe McCarthy, a 26-year-old who was acquired at the deadline last year and boasts a .376 OBP in the minors. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Much of the attention over the last two weeks has been on the younger kids, the Lucianos, Toribios and Canarios of the organization. But the Giants have a slightly older class of hitters, primarily outfielders, who are looking to prove they're part of the future, too, and they don't have a Triple-A season to get them ready. Every at-bat given to a free-agent outfielder is one taken away from Davis or Slater or maybe Dubon. 

Of course, the Giants aren't just here to develop players. They hope to compete this season, and Puig -- for all the headaches he brings -- is a proven right fielder. He is no longer, however, a proven star. Puig's OPS+ last year was a league-average 100 and he has just one three-WAR season since 2014. He was not going to be a game-changer for the Giants, and realistically, there's nobody out there who can change their fate too much now that Buster Posey has opted out. 

[RELATED: Fantasy baseball rankings for Giants, A's]

This season is what it is, but the Giants do honestly look headed for a much brighter future. The teenagers are coming fast, and Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop should arrive in the outfield in the next year or two. The hope is that when they do, Yastrzemski has company in the lineup, that a Davis or Dubon or Slater has locked down a permanent role. 

As the Giants proved last year, the only way to find those guys is to give them a shot, give them some "runway" to succeed or fail, as Zaidi has said many times in his two years here. That wasn't going to happen with another veteran joining the group nine days before the opener.