AFTER MATT CAIN THREW HIS PERFECT GAME AGAINST THE ASTROS IN JUNE, HE APPEARED ON LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN to deliver the show's familiar Top 10 list, tailored just for him. The category was Top 10 Things I Want to Achieve Now That I've Thrown a Perfect Game, and among the more memorable were No. 10: Throw a perfect game with my other arm; No. 9: Convert the mound into an organic vegetable garden; and No. 6: Catch a line drive with my mouth.
Actually the list seemed a little mundane compared with Cain's achievements in 2012. That real-life list includes No. 5: Sign a nine-figure contract extension and become one of the richest players in baseball; No. 4: Be the National League starter and winning pitcher in the All-Star Game; No. 3: Throw the first perfect game in the 130-year history of the Giants; No. 2: Win the series clinchers in the NLDS and the NLCS; and, of course, No. 1: Become a World Series champion for the second time in three years.
That list, like Cain, is tough to beat. "It's been a great season," he said even before the World Series began. "Starting the All-Star Game and throwing the perfect game are two kind of once-in-a-lifetime things that pitchers much better than me have never been fortunate enough to do, and then of course to have long-term security for my family and put down roots with the Giants is really important. On top of all that, winning a division and winning in the postseason is the ultimate goal. It's been a dream year."
He has handled the success like the humble Southerner that he's always been. He's still the kid who, when he was winning awards as a high school pitcher at Houston High in Germantown, Tenn., once asked his coach, "Do I really deserve it?" He really does. "Extremely humble, down-to-earth guy," says pitching coach Dave Righetti. "Very even-keeled and solid. I think that's one of the reasons he's so good in big games for us. The postseason doesn't shake him up."
Cain, 28, has helped set the tone for a Giants rotation full of clutch pitchers. He was brilliant in the 2010 postseason, in which he didn't give up an earned run in his three starts against the Braves, Phillies and Rangers, including going 7 2/3 innings and allowing just four hits in Game 2 of the World Series against Texas. If he wasn't quite as dominant in the '12 playoffs, he still managed to give the Giants what they needed when they needed it, joining the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter as the only pitchers to win two winner-take-all postseason games in the same year.
"Most great players are clutch players," manager Bruce Bochy said. "The higher the stakes, the more they do to elevate their game, and I certainly would put Matt Cain in that class."
Cain prides himself on being in that class. "Every player wants to be the kind that his teammates can depend on, especially in the most important situations," he said. "I'd like to think that what I've done in the past has given my teammates confidence in me. I know that it has given me confidence in myself in those kinds of big games."
It's his consistency and big-game reliability that convinced the Giants to make a long-term commitment to Cain, which is why they rewarded him with a five-year, $112.5 million contract extension before this season. "The kid has literally gotten better each year," general manager Brian Sabean said when the signing was announced. "This is the way it's supposed to turn out. We love Matt and he loves us."
THE AFFAIR BEGAN 10 YEARS AGO, WHEN CAIN WAS a high school pitcher who wasn't even on San Francisco's radar. One of their scouts, Lee Elder, attended a Houston High game to evaluate Conor Lalor, another pitcher on the team, but when Lalor came down with the flu, Cain started instead. Elder stayed for the game and was impressed with what he saw, and he became more impressed as time went on. The Giants eventually made Cain the 25th pick of the first round of the 2002 draft and gave him a $1.375 million signing bonus to persuade him to forgo a scholarship from the University of Memphis.