SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants appreciate more about Matt Cain than just his pitching. The right-hander known for his aggressive approach on the mound received the "Willie Mac" Award, given annually to the most inspirational Giant through a vote conducted among players, coaches and the training staff. "It's pretty cool to know that's the way they look at me, as a leader and a motivator," Cain said Friday.
Cain turns 25 on Oct. 1 and is the award's youngest recipient since the inaugural winner, outfielder Jack Clark in 1980, who was also 24. He's also the first starting pitcher to be named the award's sole winner since Dave Dravecky in 1989. Reliever Steve Bedrosian won it in 1990 before Mark Leiter (1995) and Mark Gardner (2001) shared the award with Mark Carreon and Benito Santiago, respectively. Cain never has been the type to stand in front of the team and bellow to convey his message. He prefers a more subtle approach, which he said he inherited from his father, Tom. "Usually when he has a good sit-down conversation, it's heartfelt," Cain said. "I feel like I try to have that with a lot of the guys." Cain has distinguished himself handsomely through barely more than four full Major League seasons. He earned National League All-Star status this season, became the eighth rookie in franchise history to lead the team in wins in 2006 and was named the Giants' Organizational Player of the Year by USA Today in 2004 and 2005 -- all after San Francisco selected him in the first round (25th overall) in the 2002 First-Year Player draft. But he particularly prized the Willie Mac distinction -- named for Giants legend Willie McCovey, who presented Cain with a plaque in a pregame ceremony. "Obviously there's a ton of stuff you can do as a player to get recognized throughout the league, but to have your teammates [consider] you and to get this award, it's pretty special," said Cain, who cast his Willie Mac ballot for reliever Jeremy Affeldt. "You want to have a great relationship and everybody wants to know that, 'Hey, this is a guy I love playing behind.'" That happens to be the feeling Cain prompts among the Giants, who admire his coping skills. Cain, 13-7 with a 2.99 ERA this year, finished 15-30 over the past two seasons due to poor run support that offset his 3.71 ERA in that span. "Perseverance" was the word Travis Ishikawa used to define Cain. "He has been the same person since I met him -- always working hard, trying to get better," Ishikawa said. "If you look past the numbers, when he was on the mound, he took charge of the game." Manager Bruce Bochy said that the vote reflected the Giants' respect for Cain's absence of complaining while they scored one run or fewer behind him in 29 of his 66 starts in 2007-08. "I think they looked at how hard Matt worked in the winter and came into Spring Training determined to turn things around, and he did that," Bochy said. Reliever Sergio Romo confirmed this, citing Cain's constant work ethic and preparation and praising him for "[keeping] that going this year and showing that he is a formidable big league pitcher, one of the best in the National League. "He's a very, very good example of what this organization wants to be."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.