When Matt Cain debuted in late 2005, he was put on a pedestal so high that he could have held up a bank, beaten up a priest, and urinated on a U.S. Flag inside the White House—all while in his uniform—and the Giants would have simply laughed it off so long as he could still pitch 6 innings or better of 3-run ball or better every 5 days.
OK, perhaps that was exceedingly hyperbolic.
What is fact is that Cain was tagged as the next great Giants legend, one who would become the face of the franchise for the next 20 years—or until he reached arbitration after a losing season, whichever came first. This was a franchise that, after 8 years of high success that included 4 postseason berths, 2 VERY CLOSE misses, a World Series appearance, and 2 Hall-of-Famers in their primes (one of whom regularly put on the best show baseball has ever seen)—was in major, premature transition, even if they hadn’t accepted it at the time.
Matt Cain has been entrenched in the Giants rotation ever since. Hasn’t missed a start, has rarely failed to go at least 6 innings. He is huge, and as intimidating as someone with the face of a 13-year-old can claim to be—to adults, anyway. While the likes of Ryan Sadowski, Joe Martinez, Brett Tomko, Matt Palmer, Kevin Correia, Brad Hennessey, Pat Misch, and a parade of other stiffs have pitched their way into and out of the Giants’ plans, Cain has held steady and often DOMINATED.
On at least 1/3 of the other MLB teams in baseball, he WOULD be the face of the franchise—or at minimum their number 1 starter. Matt Cain as an Indian would guarantee them 10 more wins annually. Matt Cain as a Pirate, Oriole, or National would instantly give each team something they sorely lack—legitimacy.
But he’s ours. Thankfully so.
So why hasn’t Matt Cain become THE face of our franchise?
Because of another face with a mop hanging around it that appears even younger than Cain’s (even though it isn’t).
Recalling the events that made Tim Lincecum a big leaguer, one cannot help but become uneasy. If your memory allows, think back to mid-2007 when Russ Ortiz—a onetime Cain-esque caliber starter who, after a few rough years away from the Giants had returned to try to salvage his career—held the 5th starter spot. He held it pretty capably for the most part, although his final numbers from that year indicate otherwise. Were it not for injuries, he would have continued to hold that spot for the rest of 2007. And who knows what would have happened after that. Maybe Ortiz is rewarded by the Giants with another contract. And since he was in his mid-30′s, maybe that contract was for $50 million.
Instead, his arm fell off, and while they put it back together, Lincecum was called up to fill the empty spot. Ortiz never came back, and “The Freak” became the new face of the Giants once Barry Bonds was “fired” at year’s end.
Basically, Lincecum came in and stole Matt Cain’s thunder before Cain really had a chance to enjoy it.
There are 3 obvious differences between the two man-boys.
Difference #1—Tim Lincecum could fit inside of Matt Cain. While wearing a spacesuit. If anyone were to charge Lincecum’s mound, well, that would be the end of Tim Lincecum unless he had a 2nd baseball hidden in his mitt. Anyone considering charging Matt Cain may as well board the Poseidon just as the wave hits—their survival chances wouldn’t be much worse.
Difference #2—Tim Lincecum uses a wild, fundamentally-flawed delivery in which it appears he is trying to start a lawn mower and then kick it in anger with each pitch. Matt Cain’s is more conventional.
Difference #3—When Tim Lincecum pitches, he often wins games because the Giants score runs for him. When Matt Cain pitches, he often has to be his own run support. If he doesn’t shut out the other team, he loses or gets no decision. Sometimes 9 innings of scoreless ball aren’t enough (remember the Pittsburgh game just after the 2009 All-Star break?)
Anyone who watches the team closely can tell you as good as Lincecum is and as gaudy as his numbers have become, the stuff and overall performance of Cain trails only SLIGHTLY. There have been around 40 games in the last 4 years in which Cain gave a quality start, or even in some cases a near FLAWLESS start, only to lose or receive no decision because of the Giants’ offensive ineptitude.
Basically, whenever Matt Cain starts, his teammates support him as if THEY’RE the ones facing Matt Cain.
I write this piece to deliver one message, and one message only.
While Tim Lincecum is electric and freaky, and as good or more as everyone boasted him to be, do not forget about Matt Cain. He was here first, and is pretty flippin’ good himself. Ever since Lincecum came, Cain gets almost no accolades and little credit outside of his own clubhouse. (Hasn’t helped that Lincecum has two Cy’s to his name)
Kind of like when Josh Beckett rode in and stole A.J. Burnett’s thunder in Florida.
The Giants have had 3 former Cy Young winners on their staff in the last calendar year, and if we hadn’t paid Aaron Rowand $60 million to strike out on the exact same 3 pitches repeatedly over the last two years, Cain could have been the 4th at some point. It is not his fault he hasn’t had an 18-win season.
His employers promote him as you would any other 10-game winner.
Which is to say they practically don’t. With his recent contract extension, at least he’s being rewarded financially.
Cain’s early years are somewhat reminiscent of another famous flamethrower from the South—Nolan Ryan, who was a barely .500 pitcher for his career STATISTICALLY, but was about an .800 pitcher to those tasked with the undesirable duty of facing him. I don’t see Cain striking out 5,714 batters or headlocking and pummeling Chad Tracy. But I do see, with a little help from his friends, Cain improving his win totals and giving Cooperstown something to think about in 20 years.
Let’s not fawn over Lincecum to the point that we neglect and under-appreciate our OTHER ace, Cain.
That goes for fans as well as the Giants’ marketing department.
About the Author
Written by Joseph Davis
I've been a Giants' fan since 1990; I still remember my first game at Candlestick as if it were yesterday (Robby Thompson homered and the Giants downed Houston 7-3). Pushed for us to get that elusive championship and at last we GOT IT! You can see me on the softball field every week sporting my orange and black, and I'm raising my little girl to not follow in her A's-fan-mom's footsteps!