An Olympian achievement
Sure, there are some things in life more important than baseball.
War, famine, the presidency, global warming, education, affordable healthcare and jobs for every able-bodied worker come to mind.
But on a perfect evening in June, when the stars are arranged in a perfect, if unknowable, alignment, when a new right fielder, playing ridiculously close to the center-field gap makes a perfect play, when a beloved but overweight and just-off-the-DL third baseman is replaced by a slightly quicker more dependable glove who fires a perfect and breathtakingly-close final strike to first base, when a brilliant catcher who has recently recovered from a viciously-broken leg is back behind the plate and flawlessly signaling every perfect pitch, when the mysterious winds that shift and shape the air currents above a pitcher’s park somehow conspire to allow a surprising number of home-field batters to hit home runs, and when a humble but profoundly-gifted pitcher finds a groove in the impossible mind-body equation that translates into pitching perfection, you have the absolute magic that unfolded at AT&T Park Wednesday night when Matt Cain, backed by the untiring, almost desperate efforts of his entire team and the adoring, on-their-feet support of 42,000 in-the-park fans and another gajillion watching at home, pitched the first perfect game in the 129-year history of the San Francisco Giants’ fabled franchise.
And while war and peace, food and shelter, meaningful work and affordable education are infinitely more important issues in the big book of history, a perfect game – especially the first one ever achieved by your team – is cause for celebration almost as joyous as the news of 4-percent unemployment or a trillion dollar-budget surplus, should those equally miraculous events ever again occur.
On the off-chance you are not a baseball – or, more importantly, a San Francisco Giants – fan, please bear with us long enough to indulge an understanding of precisely what baseball perfection actually means.
Pitcher Matt Cain faced 27 batters, threw 125 pitches (39 balls and 86 strikes) in nine innings, and not once did a single batter reach base. Not a single hit, not a single base on balls, every single batter was retired at home plate.
This has only happened 22 times in major league history, and only once before when the pitcher also struck out 14 batters. And that’s going back to either 1869 or 1876, depending on when you think Major League Baseball really began. The once-before achievement was by the legendary Sandy Koufax and standing in his company is like assuming permanent residency on Mount Olympus. Matt Cain, you have attained the status of a baseball god. AT&T Park will forever after be a historic shrine, and June 13, 2012, will be inscribed in the record books that shape the liturgy of baseball. It was a night to match the words of Homer who wrote of the fabled mountain, “Olympus was not shaken by winds nor ever wet with rain, nor did snow fall upon it, but the air is outspread clear and cloudless, and over it hovered a radiant whiteness.”
Radiant is the word for that Olympian achievement, shared and gifted to history by an entire team.