A Debut Diary

One fan takes the laptop to the game, and watches the most hyped prospect in an ongoing series of hyped prospects the last few years make his major league debut. How'd it go? It could've been better, but it could've been a lot worse.

5:20 PM –

“Welcome To The Future, Welcome To The Future”
Talking ‘bout the old times, Scared about the new times
Does anybody know you? (Does anybody need to?)
Can anybody please you? (Does anybody have to?)
Just get into the future, straight into the future.

Bigtime, We’re all partners in crime; Bigtime We’re all standing in line
Bigtime, We’re all partners in crime; Bigtime, We’ve all been left behind…”

---Bigtime, The Soundtrack of our Lives

Those words echo through my iPod as I stand on the Caltrain platform at San Carlos station, and they’ve never seemed more appropriate.

I am, of course, waiting for the train to go to the debut of Matt Cain in the major leagues. This won’t be my first time seeing Cain. I’ve watched him a few times with the Fresno Grizzlies this season, and been reasonably impressed, even when catching one of his ‘bad’ games.

But seeing him in the big leagues, with a big time crowd, will be a different beast. Sure, I’ve seen debuts of various Giant prospects before, disappointing debuts. Jerome Williams with 5 runs in 5 innings. Jesse Foppert, who gave up 5 runs in 4 innings. The brief debut in relief of Merkin Valdez. The last time I can remember being impressed by any Giant Minor Leaguer’s major league debut was eventual utilityman Ramon Martinez’s 4 for 4 day at Candlestick in 1998.

But Cain is a different thing. For one, he’s possibly the most hyped prospect yet to come through the Giants system. For another, he’s the first to make a debut in a season with the Giants under .500, and very probably a lost season. For once, Giant fans are thinking and hoping for the future, not focused on the present. Even so, I haven’t given up on the season yet. 2 wins over the Mets going into a 9 game stretch against divisional rivals is a good time for the Giants to go on a run.

It’s a sunny day in San Carlos. There’s no hint of fog sitting on the hills over the San Andreas fault, as there usually is in the afternoons. There isn’t even any to be seen to the north, sliding over the hills behind Millbrae and down in front of San Bruno Mountain. However, unusually, there’s quite a bit of wind coming down the hills this time of the early evening.

As my iPod changes songs to Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple, I start to think it’s going to be a very interesting night of baseball.

6:31 PM –

Sitting in my seat, I ponder whether or not to switch from my iPod to KNBR to listen to the hype. The iPod advances from We Shall Overcome by the O.C. Supertones to Destino De Abril by Green Car Motel, with Heaven by Los Lonely Boys coming up next.

I decide to stick with the iPod.

I’ve finished my Meatball sandwich from Quizno’s and am contemplating all that’s been said about Cain.online. Internet message boards are, of course, a much better place to discuss sports than your average water cooler at any business. They are also a spectacular place to talk music, politics, pop culture and riff of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Entourage.’ And that’s just the Giants board on ESPN.com.

Someone posted Friday, shortly after Cain’s promotion and pending start was announced, that someone on Monday night would be saying “I told you so.” And that was a certainty.

For every person excited about Cain’s fastball, there was someone warning about Foppert’s supposed fastball. Every time someone got excited about Cain’s strikeout rate, there was someone to point out his abnormally high walk rate. Whenever anyone would point out that Seattle’s well-performing phenom (and Cain’s rival in the PCL) Felix Hernandez, it would be pointed out Hernandez didn’t have Cain’s home run rate. And when the debate ranged to the PCL’s reputation as a hitter’s league, someone would say that Major League hitters in normal parks are still tougher than AAA hitters in small parks.

There was no consensus on Cain, that’s for sure.

The announcement on Friday of Cain’s promotion was bittersweet for me. Literally less than an hour before, my father and I, who share season tickets, had donated our Monday night tickets to the Giants Community Fund, since neither of us were planning to go. I was, of course, going to singles night on Tuesday.

Luckily, our fine season ticket neighbors had an extra seat, and graciously let me use it. That’s one of the great things about season ticket holders, is we’ve got a great community and are always ready to help each other out.

As some golf for charity thing goes on down on the field, I check the message boards. I find out that former phenom Jerome Williams is getting bombed by the Dodgers. Is this a good sign for the night? Discussion varies on whether or not the Giants development system has anything to do with it. Frisco_Short_Stop is worried about all the hype that Cain has received, and a possible letdown. Psycho promises to stop playing video games to watch the game. On the SFDugout.com board, OptionZero predicts a 5 inning, 3 ER, 5 walk outing by the kid, throwing in a defensive error for good measure. Damn pessimists.

As the park slowly fills up, fans ignore the weird charity thing on the field going away and seem a bit abuzz for what they’re about to see.

Cain steps onto the field, and starts playing long toss with Mike Matheny. He wears #43. He wore #18 in the minors, but since the manager’s son wears that in San Francisco, Cain gets to wear another number. #43 was most recently worn on the Giants by the much maligned Ryan Jensen. Another bad sign?

7:03 PM –

The Time is Now by John Cena is on my iPod, the last song before I switch to the radio as I get into a ballgame type of energy.

Cain is warming up with Matheny. Almost every warmup pitch has been on target, with Matheny’s glove usually moving very little to catch Cain’s tosses. A crowd standing along the Giants bullpen and in the aisles has gathered.

Fellow former Fresno Grizzly Todd Linden will be in right, with recently recalled Jason Ellison on the bench. I hope it’s going to be a night for the kids.

Renel announces Matt Cain’s name in the lineup, and it’s greeted with a half standing ovation, mostly from the people near the Giants bullpen, where Cain is picking up his jacket to go into the dugout.

7:15 PM –

First pitch, a ball.

But he gets the out. The fastball is at 95 MPH. Jon Miller has no idea either what his high 80’s/low nineties offspeed pitch is. I think it’s a slider.

The 2nd batter of the game is Cain’s first strikeout, a 96 MPH fastball looking. One pitch and a fly to left later, the first inning is over. It took just 9 pitches, and the Rockies went down in order.

Matheny ignores a fired up Cain going into the dugout. Nuke and Crash, that’s what it looks like.


The Giants managed a couple of hits against the Rockies pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim, but no runs to give Cain his first lead. On the outfield scoreboard, Arizona and San Diego is scoreless in the 2nd, as Cain comes out for his second inning of work.

Yes, I’m scoreboard watching. The Giants aren’t out of it, yet.

Matt Holliday takes Cain’s first offering of the second deep into the left field bleacher. Garrett Atkins walks next. Uh-oh.

1-0 Rockies.

7:37 PM –

Cain jogs off the field after retiring the next three hitters on pop ups. He nods to someone in the crowd above the dugout as he goes in. Hopefully, the home run and walk are him getting over his nerves. So much for a perfect game debut. Oh well, there wouldn’t have been anywhere to go but down after that, anyway.

Arizona’s taken a lead on first place San Diego, 1-0 in the 2nd.

7:45 PM –

The third begins. The sky is a perfect eastern end of a California sunset, with a deep purple along the horizon, a thin line of dark pink above it and a fading blue along the heading up.

Cain isn’t seeing it. He takes the pitcher Kim to a full count. Kim takes a swing at a high fastball and spins himself almost literally out of his shoes, but he got a piece of it to see another pitch, which is lined to the right fielder Linden.

7:52 PM –

After a laborious inning, Cain gets the Giants back into the dugout without another baserunner. Now comes another first: his first at bat. The Giants Junior Announcer timidly announces him to a cheering crowd. But he goes down looking after 4 pitches. Oh well, he’s not a hot prospect for his bat. Not everyone can be Noah Lowry.

8:10 PM –

More issues for Cain. He opened the inning with two singles and a walk to load the bases with nobody out before getting a double play ball that scored a run. He then had a couple of close calls go against him as he walks Quintanilla. Now, he’s facing Danny Ardoin, a .240 hitter. Surprisingly, Cain’s curveball has gone largely unused. When seeing Cain in the minors, that’s the pitch that impressed me the most. His fastball, slider and changeup are a little close in velocity, which leads to a lot of foul balls. But the curveball is a low 80’s, high 70’s monster.

And on cue, with an 0-2 count, he nails that curveball in the strike zone and gets his second strikeout of the night. That is only his third curve of the night.

However, his pitchout is climbing with a lot of fouls being peppered all over the park. Hopefully, he can use the curve to get more K’s. And hopefully the Giants can score some runs in support of him.

The Diamondbacks are up 5-1 in the 4th.

8:38 PM –

Cain is getting a rookie squeeze from the home plate umpire. After getting a 1 pitch out to start the inning, and a fairly quick 2nd out, Cain faced Gonzalez, and with two strikes, threw a 96 mph fastball down the pipe for strike three. Except the ump didn’t call it. Gonzalez would walk.

And now, Helton has taken Cain to a full count with, again, a lot more foul balls. I don’t get it. Matheny is calling for almost nothing but fastballs. There hasn’t been a curveball thrown in the inning. The slider has rarely been called. And Helton is getting ever closer to locking onto that fastball. He’s seen it enough.

Finally, after a 14 pitch at bat and 103 overall, Helton takes a fastball deep to left center…but not deep enough as Moises catches it to end the inning. Cain threw one more curveball, which Helton hit foul. But we may have seen the last of Cain with that pitch count.

Sure enough, Niekro pinch hits for Cain’s spot, leading off the bottom of the 5th. The kid’s day is over, with him on the hook for the loss unless the Giants score some runs now.

8:49 PM –

Cain’s out and Jeremy Accardo’s in, and surprise surprise, Matheny calls for a fastball first pitch.

As Cain’s first outing sinks in, the only thing going through my mind is how badly called this game was, pitch wise. In a 14 pitch at bat, catcher Mike Matheny calls for 13 fastballs? Cain’s got a nice fastball, and he was hitting 96 regularly, but it’s best mixed with other pitches. Cain still looked good, giving up just 3 hits over 5 innings, though he walked 4 and let two score. But he can’t win, and will lose if the Giants can’t tie this game in the final 4 innings.

Arizona’s still beating San Diego, 6-1.

9:41 PM –

It’s the bottom of the 9th, with the game still 2-1 as Alou leads off to try and take Cain off the hook for the loss.

No luck. The inability of anyone to hit a changeup in this lineup seals Cain’s fate to a loss in his major league debut.

The venom comes out of some of the crowd. Scattered boos rain down as Feliz flails at a changeup like a blind man trying to play golf. Most of the rest of the fans leave listlessly, frustrated by a team that is finally getting good pitching, but can’t get hits to save their careers, much less to help out their teammates.

10:01 PM –

Sitting on the train listening to KNBR’s post-game wrap, things feel a little better, but not much. I’ve seen Cain before, and I know that most Giants fans still haven’t seen the real Matt Cain.

Hopefully, he can continue to build on it. Looking at his rival Felix Hernandez, the starts are comparable:

Hernandez’s first start: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO
Cain’s first start: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO

Hernandez, of course, has managed a 1.75 ERA over 5 starts so far in his young career since that start.

Still, one has to wonder if Cain could’ve looked any better. Cain threw 23 pitches to the last two hitters he faced, and he likely would’ve gone into the 6th inning if the 2-2, 2 out fastball that the ump didn’t call a strike was called.

11:18 PM –

I’m back at home and mellowed out a bit now. I shuffled through the iPod on the train ride home to play some mellow music, a little Bond, a little Chantal Kreviazuk. But before the train got back to San Carlos, the iPod found itself back onto Bigtime. Scared of the future, indeed. It’s pretty easy as a Giants fan to get down on this team. The first half of the season had no pitching, and good hitting. The second half has seen some consistently great pitching, and some terrible hitting.

Oh yea, and the Padres lost, so the Giants are still a tantalizing 7 games back.

But that’s why we go to games like these, and see guys like Cain pitch. This is about hope. Hope not just for next year, but this year as well. This team isn’t completely untalented. Maybe they could turn it around, maybe not. And yet, it’s also about getting guys like Cain and Lowry in line for 2006. And seeing if Hennessey or Correia can come through consistently.

I’m not giving up.

So here I am, home and writing about the Giants. I even called up KNBR and gave Bruce Macgowan the lowdown on some prospects (By the way, Bruce, thanks for letting pimp SFDugout.com on the air).

And I’m looking forward to seeing the real Matt Cain pitch on Saturday.

Love me, hate me, idolize me, or laugh at me, just don't ignore me. Let me know what you think: write me at kevin@ugcfilms.com .

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