It was the moment when electricity turned to thunder in the perfect storm of an immortal game.
“A feeling of destiny,” is what Giants president Larry Baer called Gregor Blanco’s turning an all-out sprint into a breathtaking diving catch to preserve the 22nd perfect game in major league history, and the first ever for a Giants pitcher.
There’s a reason why such a play becomes the distinguishing characteristic of a perfect game. Perfect games are a team effort. And, as Blanco slid headlong across the warning track to rob the Astros of their lone base runner of the night, it served as a reminder of what has made for a modern era of outstanding Giants baseball.
Yes, pitching has become synonymous as the cornerstone of the era. Yet, great defense has served as the mortar. Despite some early-season struggles, the 2012 Giants have the potential to be a great defensive team. And, Blanco’s seventh-inning play was a brilliant flash of that potential.
Still, the iconic image in that moment belongs to Matt Cain. When he threw the Joe Montana arms in the air, you could tell it was destined to be a special night.
Cain’s jubilant reaction was an affirmation for a previous perfect game that wasn’t. It has been nearly three years since Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter, a performance that came up one Juan Uribe error short of perfect. Call it karma that the Giants were owed an impossible catch to save just such an occasion.
It’s fitting that the final out of Cain’s perfecto was by virtue of a groundout to third base. Not to mention, Sanchez was reactivated earlier in the day by Kansas City from a month-long stint on the disabled list.
In defense of Uribe’s error at third, now some three years gone. It may have been a necessary evil. I’ve long been beholden to the theory that if Uribe doesn’t commit that error, it’s possible Sanchez’s demeanor gets the best of him, and he ends up giving up not just the perfect game, but the no-hitter as well. How it would have played out, we’ll never know. But this much is true: Uribe’s error loosened Sanchez up. And that play, while villainized, may very well have preserved history, as opposed to preventing it.
However, what really tarnished Sanchez’s no-no wasn’t Uribe, but Uribe’s former team. Just two weeks later, the White Sox upstaged Sanchez’s feat when Mark Buehrle threw the 18th perfect game in baseball history. Giants fans remember Aaron Rowand’s outstanding ninth-inning catch while banging off the center-field wall to save Sanchez’s no-hitter. But, White Sox center fielder DeWayne Wise made a better one – leaping up and reaching over the wall to rob Gabe Kapler of a home run in the ninth inning.
Now, just two weeks after Johan Santana hurled the first no-hitter in Mets history, the Giants in essence have upstaged him. Another force of karma? Perhaps. However, the White Sox once again own bragging rights with Phil Humber having thrown the first perfect game of the 2012 season.
History has a way of casting all these comparisons aside, though. And, well, they should be cast aside. Each of these achievements has an honored place in the record books, as well as a place in the hearts and minds of these team’s respective fans.
As for Matt Cain, Wednesday’s perfect game marks the day that San Francisco’s native son has come home. Sure, Cain hails from Germantown, Tennessee. But he belongs to the City by the Bay. And as of June 13, 2012, he always will.
As the most tenured player on the Giants’ roster, Cain is the figure that spans modern Giants history. From Pac Bell Park to AT&T Park – from Barry Bonds to Buster Posey – from Kirk Rueter to Tim Lincecum – Cain is the constant that bridges two very distinct modern eras.
This is why destiny chose Matt Cain. And, why too destiny served to bless him with an exceptional defense; especially the Godsend of a second center fielder flying out of right in the person of Gregor Blanco.