People forget how good Matt Cain was. There was a period in which he and Tim Lincecum were perhaps the nastiest 1-2 punch in all of baseball. While injuries ultimately cut his career short, Cain had a four-year stretch in which he was one of the best pitchers in the sport, with his crowning achievement coming on this day in 2012 in which he threw a perfect game against the Astros. You could make a strong argument that this may be the most dominant perfect game of all time. Cain had everything working in this game, punching out fourteen Astros. Fourteen punchies is still the record for the most ever recorded in a perfect game. I have to point out that the Astros team that Cain faced that night was rough, and I'm being generous. But what cares? It's a perfect game.
There's no such thing as a bad perfect game. At the same time, I feel that specific pitching performances can stand the test of time over others. Philip Humber threw a perfect game for the White Sox a few weeks before Matt Cain did. While that is, objectively speaking, one of the most incredible pitching performances in baseball history, I feel Matt Cain's performance is probably one of the most memorable perfect games we've seen. There was just something so beautiful about the moment. You had an All-Star pitcher in the prime of his career pitching the best baseball of his life for a team that would ultimately win the World Series playing under the lights at Oracle Park (at the time, it was AT&T Park.) This game also featured one of the most incredible perfect game-saving defensive players of all time when Gregor Blanco laid out to rob Jordan Schafer of extra bases to lead off the 7th inning.
Because of how great Blanco's catch was, I think it gets overlooked how impressive Joaquin Arias' final play was to preserve the perfect game. Bruce Bochy had moved Arias over from short to third base for the last inning to replace Pablo Sandoval, and while Panda in his prime was a better defender than some people give him credit for, I doubt he makes that throw off of his back foot.
Felix Hernandez would throw a perfect game two months later against the Tampa Bay Rays. We have not seen a perfect game in baseball since then. We almost had one at the beginning of this season, but Dave Roberts decided to pull Clayton Kershaw after 70-something pitches because he wanted to save him for October. While I hope I'm wrong, I genuinely feel like it's going to be a while before we see another perfect game in Major League Baseball. There are plenty of pitchers in the league right now who can throw perfect games. Still, considering the age we are in, I don't know if there are that many baseball managers right now who will have the guts to allow their starter to throw 125 pitches like Matt Cain did on this day in 2012. I hope we can get back to that point one day. Few things in sports are more incredible than the anticipation of seeing a guy build-up to a perfecto. It might not happen again, but we will always have Matt Cain.