| July-August 2012
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By Screamin’ Leeman
Editor’s Note: Bill Leeman, known to his wide digital audience as Screamin’ Leeman, is a co-founder of the Noe Valley Voice, a former resident (for 20 years) of Clipper Street, and an avid writer and sports fan. So we were psyched when he offered his take on the near miracle performed by another former Noe Valley resident, Matt Cain.
By now, most people know that Matt Cain pitched a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants on June 13. But do you know what it takes to do that?
A perfect game is not merely a no-hitter. When you pitch a no-hitter, there are still ways for the other team to get on base. They can draw a walk, get hit by a pitch, or get on as the result of an error, to name a few. Heck, it’s even possible to pitch a no-hitter and lose the game.
No, a perfect game is just that: facing 27 batters over nine innings and getting every single one of them out. No one reaches first base. While a no-hitter is indeed a big deal, a perfect game is in a completely different stratosphere.
That’s why there have been so few of them. Matt Cain’s was the first one in the history of the Giants franchise, which dates back to 1883. In recorded baseball history, there have been somewhere around a half million pitching starts. Matt Cain’s gem was the 22nd perfect game. Rare territory, indeed.
A perfect game is a beautiful thing, a joy to watch. It is also a conspiracy of the heavens, a fluke of nature, a concoction of the baseball gods. All the forces of nature and man must converge in perfect symmetry.
Not to diminish in any way the accomplishment of Matt Cain. He had to be absolute nails out there. But there is so much more to it than that.
You know what kind of guys make it to the major leagues? Let me tell you. If you ever got a chance to play with a major leaguer, it is like this: They’re not like the rest of us. They are so much better than everyone you’ve ever known, it makes your jaw drop. They can throw the ball harder and farther than anyone you’ve ever seen. They can run faster and hit the ball 10 times as far. If you’re a pitcher, it’s the same.
You know what an ERA is? That is a pitcher’s earned run average. It’s figured by dividing the number of runs allowed by the number of innings pitched (and then multiplying by nine). Good pitchers these days have ERAs of around 3.50. The best ERA ever recorded for a complete season was accomplished by Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals—an incredible 1.12.
There was a pitcher for the Houston Astros named J.R. Richard, whose ERA his senior year in high school was 0.00. In other words, he went the entire year without giving up a run. These are the kind of guys who make it to the majors.
Fielders are the same. Do you have any idea what kind of an arm it takes to throw a ball in a straight line from third to first? Most of us would have to wind up, take three steps forward, and throw a long arcing shot and hope it would get there. These guys throw bullets routinely. That’s why their arms are referred to as guns.
Now let’s talk about batters. Under perfect conditions, most mortal men can barely hit a ball to the outfield. If you or I got a perfect pitch, and connected perfectly, it might land about halfway out in the outfield. Major leaguers hit screaming line drives regularly. They scorch the ball, smack the bloody gee-willikers out of it every single day.
In order to have a perfect game, not only does the pitcher—thank you, Matt Cain—have to be in a very special zone, everything else needs to be in sync, to be in harmony. If Gregor Blanco hadn’t made that fabulous, running, flying, leaping, balls-out catch in the seventh inning, the perfect game wouldn’t have happened. If Melky Cabrera hadn’t made a couple of fine catches in the outfield, it couldn’t have happened.
And the nerves! The pressure! With each passing inning, knowing what could be in store, the tension builds. I think the hardest play of the entire night was the final out. A hard ground ball hit to the right of the third baseman Joaquin Arias, who actually staggered backward and to his right as he tried to make the throw to first. We were all holding our collective breaths as he made the awkward throw, but it was a strong throw, and then: It was over!
A Perfect Game.
A historic day! No one would leave the ball park for quite a while. They all wanted to bask in the moment, and bask they did. As Matt Cain was being interviewed afterwards in the dugout, his wife was escorted from the stands to meet him, and it was quite touching. Me and mine got a little teary-eyed for a couple of minutes there.
So there’s a little perspective on what it takes to pitch a perfect game. What a wonderful thing to witness.
On the other hand, it boils down to one stinking win out of a 162-game season. Now there’s some perspective for you.
Bill “Screamin’” Leeman, who now resides in San Rafael with his wife Carol, writes movie and TV reviews and is a regular contributor to Ron Barr’s SportsBylineUSA.com. This essay first appeared in the Benicia Herald.
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