Cain earns valuable respect from team

Cain earns valuable respect from teammates

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The rigors Matt Cain experienced last year actually have rewarded him.

Cain never will erase the results of being one of the unluckiest pitchers in recent memory. Despite compiling a respectable 3.65 ERA last season, he finished 7-16 due to receiving the Major Leagues' second-worst run support. Three times Cain pitched at least six innings and allowed only one hit, yet he still absorbed defeats.

Through it all, he never complained. That earned him the enduring admiration of his teammates, which is more valuable than money and more cherished than any statistic. What Cain has won won't be found in any record book. It resides in the hearts and minds of men who will strive to help him avoid duplicating the misfortunes of 2007.

In praising Cain's stoicism, catcher Bengie Molina repeated the word "respect," which is one of the biggest in any language.

"That's respect for players, that's respect for your teammates, that's respecting baseball, that's respecting every single little thing that baseball brings," Molina said. "That's the guy right there -- the guy who doesn't complain because we didn't hit. That's respect for us."

A Cy Young Award might pale in comparison to this type of appreciation.

"There's nothing better than that, really, [knowing] that your teammates respect everything you do," Cain said. "It's something that'll be appreciated down the road. When we're done playing and somebody asks you, 'Hey, what do you think about this guy?' It'll be awesome to say, 'He's a great guy, the guy never gave up, he was always fun to play with, he's just an overall great person.' There's really nothing in my mind better than that, to have that said about you or to say it about somebody else."

Cain could have reacted differently. The Giants know that, because one of them did. On various occasions, reliever Armando Benitez criticized the offense for failing to advance baserunners and even questioned 11-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel's positioning at shortstop. Nobody in the clubhouse mourned when the Giants traded Benitez to Florida last May 31.

Dave Righetti, who has seen all kinds of personalities during 16 active seasons in the Majors and eight years as the Giants' pitching coach, knows how poisonous a pitcher-versus-hitter rift can be.

"It'll split a team," Righetti said. "You start losing, and it creates a clubhouse problem. The hitters start getting a chip on their shoulders. Matty will always be revered by the guys he played with last year for being a pro's pro. A lot of guys should take a lesson from him."

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Cain began learning his lessons about maintaining an even temper as a youth. If he felt like complaining after a game, his parents, Tom and Dolores, would let him vent -- until they got home.

Last year, Cain's support group multiplied, as several well-meaning teammates urged him to persevere through the excruciating defeats and no-decisions. Outfielder Dave Roberts was particularly helpful.

"I just think that he's such a good kid and he's got endless abilities," Roberts said. "To see him keep his wits about him, for lack of a better term, throughout those struggles when they were out of his control, with us not scoring runs for him, just says a ton about his character.

"I just tried to reinforce to him that if he can get through a season like that, he's going to be so much better for it when he deals with adversity in the future."

Molina also consoled Cain regularly.

"I told him, 'You have nothing to be mad or sad about. You did your best,' " Molina said. "'If you keep pitching like this, you're going to have a lot of years in the big leagues.' "

As strong as Cain tried to remain internally, he needed this encouragement.

"There were many times where I probably wanted to go, 'I don't know what to do anymore,' " he admitted. "So many guys said, 'Keep pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing, you'll get out of this.' That's something that's very motivating to hear, that my teammates had faith in me."

Cain believes that from now on, he'll be even more prepared to handle the disappointments that baseball inevitably will bring him.

"It'll be great to have that experience," he said. "It's not something you wish on anyone, but it happens."

At 23, Cain has done more than just grow as a ballplayer. His adversity has matured him as a man.

"It'll bode well for him for anything he goes through in life," Righetti said.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.