Why do we check those West Coast box scores one last time?
Because we do.
Because we're lucky enough to be baseball fans, and obsessed enough to believe anything is possible. That maybe on a random evening in the middle of June, in a packed ballpark on a beautiful night in San Francisco, a little magic just might happen. Why we believe cannot be explained. We do. We watch. We stay up too late.
It's a wonderful game, this baseball.
I saw the 12 up, 12 down that Matt Cain had through four innings. Figured, "Hey, it's the Astros. I'll see what's going on." Flipped the game on in the bottom of the fourth, watched Cain destroy J.D. Martinez and Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson with an array of nasty pitches in the top of the fifth and immediately thought: He has a chance. He mowed the Astros down in the sixth, with two more strikeouts and a warning track fly ball from Chris Snyder. No two pitches were the same. Different pitches, different speeds, different locations. In and out, up and down -- four-seamers, two-seamers, changeups, sharp-breaking curveballs. It was a pitching clinic.
You watch enough baseball, you get that feeling. There was certainly a buzz in the ballpark. Giants fans were standing up on two-strike counts from the moment I tuned in. They seemed to know. My 14-year-old nephew is up visiting from Florida. He has been here two weeks and we already watched the end of the Johan Santana no-hitter. My wife and T.J.'s dad are Mets fans, so he called his dad on the phone, giving him the play-by-play as Santana pitched through the ninth. The three of us jumped and hugged and celebrated together as Santana completed the no-no.
On this night, T.J and I sat on the couch. I told him I think he can do it, Cain's stuff looks unhittable. The changeup and two-seamer have great movement. Then came the catch.
The greatest I've ever seen. Gregor Blanco did not catch that ball. Impossible. Not where Jordan Schafer hit it, leading off the seventh inning. We yelled and cheered as Blanco ran forever, hauling in the uncatchable with a miraculous diving grab snared in the fingertips of his glove. My wife came downstairs, wondered what happened. We showed her the replay and counted Blanco’s strides: 15? 18? No, maybe 20. What is that, 60 feet, 70 feet?
Willie Mays, you have company.
This is what baseball can do. Gregor Blanco, a small speck in the dust of baseball history, will now be remembered.
As the ninth inning began, I reminded T.J. that his other uncle and cousin had once been at a game at Fenway Park when Mike Mussina lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth. Many perfect games and no-hitters have been lost with three outs or fewer to go.
But not on this night. Two easy fly balls to left field. And then Jason Castro, left-handed batter, squibbed a 1-2 grounder to third baseman Joaquin Arias, who stumbled back a step as he fielded the ball, recovered and threw a laser to first base. Good thing the Giants didn't have of these new-fangled shifts going on. A perfect game. "He did it!" we shouted in our living room in Connecticut, two baseball fans enjoying the moment.
Cain was terrific in his postgame interviews. Asked when he started thinking of the no-hitter, he said, "If I haven't given up a hit, I've thought about it from the first inning on."
Cain was in sync with catcher Buster Posey all night. His big pitch was a 3-2 changeup that got Jed Lowrie swinging for the final out of the seventh. "That was Buster's fault," Cain joked. "If that had gone as a ball, it would have been his fault. ... I was going with whatever he put down."
He couldn't believe the Blanco catch. "When Blanco made that catch in center, I literally felt everybody on the mound with me. The whole stadium was electric. ... I had to find a way to calm down."
Somehow, he did.
* * * *
You can make the argument that this was the greatest game ever pitched. Of the 22 perfect games in MLB history, only Sandy Koufax matched Cain's 14 strikeouts. Using the Bill James Game Score method, this ties Koufax and Nolan Ryan's 16-strikeout, two-walk no-hitter for the second-highest nine-inning score at 101, behind only Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout, one-hitter that scores 105.
We can debate that all night, all day tomorrow, the rest of the season and into the future.
For now, we'll watch more baseball and be sure to check out those West Coast box scores.
You never know.