When a pitcher throws a perfect game, it's not hard to decide who should get the game ball.
What Matt Cain did last night was historic: 14 strikeouts (tying Sandy Koufax for the most ever in a perfect game), the first perfect game in Giants franchise history and a pitching score of 101 (tying Koufax and Nolan Ryan for second best in history behind Kerry Wood).
No one's arguing who the night belonged to.
But in hindsight, as history begins to examine every facet of a game like the one Cain threw last night, it becomes apparent that many players had a role in his accomplishment.
At the top of list are Gregory Blanco and Buster Posey. Blanco robbed Jordan Schafer of a possible triple and definite hit for the first out of the seventh, with perhaps the single most important defensive play in Giants franchise history. For a history that includes Willie Mays' catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, that's saying something. But for anyone who's watched the clip of Blanco's play, there is little room to argue its magnificence or importance.
Buster Posey's efforts can't be summarized in a dazzling play, but rather his pitch-calling through the entirety of Matt Cain's perfect game. Cain told reporters that he never once shook off Posey during the game. Keep in mind that Posey was catching only the 216th game of his career, far less than 624, the average number of games caught by other perfect game catchers. In the infancy of his baseball career, Posey has amassed a World Series ring, a Rookie of the Year trophy and now, perhaps most impressively, a place in history as the catcher of record in a perfect game.
Even with the monumental contributions of Posey and Blanco, they are hardly the only players who are not named Matt Cain who contributed to the outcome of Wednesday's game.
As an offense-starved club, the Giants did the unthinkable by scoring seven runs in the first three innings.
A Ryan Theriot single led to a Melky Cabrera home run in the first, giving Cain the comfort of a two-run lead (something he's had to pitch without far too often). In the second, Brandon Belt sent Pablo Sandoval home with his second long-ball in as many days. Later in the same inning, a Gregor Blanco grounder scored Joaquin Arias. Sandoval drove Posey and Cabrera home in the third with a soft line drive and Brandon Belt added another RBI to his night with a single.
Over the course of the next six innings, the Giants would score three more times, including a home run from Gregory Blanco, who appeared determined to do everything in his power to make sure Matt Cain's historic night stayed on track. While the Giants have scored with a bit more regularity than the doldrums of 2011 and parts of 2010, the impact of a 10 run cushion cannot be overstated.
Those runs equal the most ever scored behind a pitcher with a perfect game. Before last night, the highest was six.
Everyone played beyond their potential in ensuring Matt Cain's baseball immortality. Take for example, Brandon Belt. Before Tuesday, his last home run was on September 27. His numbers have been far below what teams typically expect from a first baseman. Coming in to Wednesday night's game, no one would've expected Belt to go for 2-3 for 3 RBI and a walk. But he did.
Melky Cabrera, in only his second game back from an ailing hamstring, made a leaping catch at the wall in the sixth inning to take away a hit from Chris Snyder. Brandon Crawford came in and shook his past mistakes away to deliver quality defense at shortstop.
Baseball is a team sport, and Matt Cain's perfect game Wednesday night encapsulates this concept.
Everything mattered, from the batters getting Cain runs to Cain pumping up the outfield to make acrobatic dives to the outfield's defense driving the sell-out crowd at AT&T into a rabid frenzy. Matt Cain deserves all the praise and attention he'll get today, tomorrow and for the rest of his career. This is a guy who became the first pitcher to ever score a run in his own perfect game.
But let us never forget the other names, the players who may not leave such indelible marks on a sport full of memorable moments and legendary figures.
Here's to Blanco, and Belt and Arias. To Posey, and Cabrera and Pagan. You are all Giants—all of you.