OK, maybe they couldn't have guessed he'd throw the 22nd perfect game in Major League history. They just knew that with his dazzling stuff and his poise and smarts and confidence, he might very well do something that would have people talking forever.
Yes, Cain is that good. He didn't get good last month or last year either. He has been great almost from the beginning.
Cain is one of those players others genuinely root for, because there's a large streak of humility woven into those competitive fires. He's also the anchor around which the Giants have constructed their pitching staff. The right-hander has taken the ball at least 30 times every year of his career and has pitched at least 200 innings five straight seasons. He has never missed a start because of an injury.
Toughness? Cain has received the lowest run support in the Majors since his first full season in 2006 (3.91 runs a game before Wednesday). He's 65-9 when the Giants score at least three runs for him.
He has also been at his best on the game's biggest stage. In 21 1/3 postseason innings, he has not allowed an earned run.
Now about those near misses. Five other times, Cain had taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning without finishing the deal.
And then on Wednesday at AT&T Park, he retired 27 straight Astros on his way to a 10-0 victory. The Giants have been in business since 1883, and this was the first time a pitcher has gone 27 up, 27 down.
He was bailed out by a couple of spectacular defensive plays, the kind of plays that were close, that could have gone either way, that could have sent Cain home disappointed.
Only this time, he was perfect. He had everything going, a blazing fastball and a changeup that both kept the Astros off balance and made that 94-mph heater look like 104 mph.
Cain never stopped pitching, and maybe that's the key. With the crowd standing and cheering in those final innings, he kept the Astros guessing.
"I literally felt everyone on the mound with me," he told KNBR. "The whole stadium."
For instance, Cain opened the seventh by throwing shortstop Jed Lowrie two fastballs, then struck him out on a changeup. Cain got all three outs in the eighth on fastballs, but he set them all up with either a changeup or a slider.
Finally, in the ninth, he got all three outs on fastballs, all of them set up by either a curveball or a changeup. In other words, the Astros never knew what was coming.
When Jason Castro ended it with a grounder to third, the Giants rushed the mound for a wild celebration of bear hugs and smiles. And then manager Bruce Bochy embraced him and held him tight, grinning broadly, looking every bit as happy as his right-hander.
|Amos Russie||July 31, 1891||Brooklyn||6-0|
|Christy Mathewson||July 15, 1901||St. Louis||5-0|
|Christy Mathewson||June 13, 1905||Chicago||1-0|
|Hooks Wiltse||July 4, 1908||Philadelphia||1-0|
|Jeff Tesreau||Sept. 6, 1912||Philadelphia||3-0|
|Rube Marquard||April 15, 1915||Brooklyn||2-0|
|Jesse Barnes||May 7, 1922||Philadelphia||6-0|
|Carl Hubbell||May 8, 1929||Pittsburgh||11-0|
|Juan Marichal||June 15, 1963||Houston||1-0|
|Gaylord Perry||Sept. 17, 1968||St. Louis||1-0|
|Ed Halicki||Aug. 24, 1975||New York||6-0|
|John Montefusco||Sept. 29, 1976||Atlanta||9-0|
|Jonathan Sanchez||July 10, 2009||San Diego||8-0|
|Matt Cain||June 13, 2012||Houston||10-0|
Cain has pitched in Tim Lincecum's large shadow for a portion of his career with the Giants. Maybe Cain prefers it that way. He grew up in Dothan, Ala., and has gone about his business, never seeking attention.
But he has attempted to do everything right. He's both meticulous in his preparation and active in the community, such as his work with Project Open Hand, a non-profit that feeds critically ill and homebound patients.
He was on his way to being one of the crown jewels of this fall's free-agent class until San Francisco signed him to a five-year, $112.5 million contract at the beginning of the season. Now he has given the Giants one of those special nights in the history of the franchise. His is the fifth no-hitter already this season, and if you turn on your television and hear someone telling you why it's happening, ignore them.
The truth is, it's impossible to know, because the five no-hitters have come from all different directions. Philip Humber had one perfect night in a career that has been woven around frustration and disappointment. Six Mariners combined on one just last week.
But Jered Weaver and Johan Santana threw no-hitters, too, and they have been among baseball's elite pitchers the last decade.
Instead of trying to come up with a reason, let's enjoy the magic of these five nights. Of seeing Santana overcome the odds of serious shoulder surgery. Of celebrating Humber's greatest night. On and on.
And allow us to celebrate Cain, one of the most respected and accomplished players in the game, someone who has worked relentlessly to be the best he could be. Along the way, he has won the respect of those who've played with him and against him.
On one night, he was as good as almost any pitcher as ever been. We were the lucky ones, to be able to cheer for him and appreciate him. Sometimes, good things do happen to good people.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.