Liotta: He’s Tom Seaver — without the support

I’m worried about Matt Cain. Because it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

I was in the stands at AT&T Park on Sept. 9, 2005, when Cain gave Giants fans goose bumps, pitching a two-hitter against the Chicago Cubs. He was 20 years old. It was his third major-league start and everybody left the ballpark dreaming big things.

What I remember most about that Friday night was Cain striking out Derrek Lee to end the sixth. Two innings earlier, Lee had homered to left field, and in their next confrontation, Cain simply overpowered the slugger. Mano a mano. The kid never blinked. The place went crazy.

In fact, after giving up Lee’s fourth-inning homer, Cain retired 15 batters in a row and wound up beating the Cubs 2-1. After the game, while an energized crowd spilled out into Willie Mays Plaza, Felipe Alou compared Cain to a young Tom Seaver.

And the former Giants skipper was right, but not like he expected. During Seaver’s first two full seasons with the New York Mets — 1967 and ’68 — the Mets went 61-101 and 73-89. In Cain’s first two full seasons with the Giants, the Giants went 76-85 and 71-91. That’s right, the Giants have been amazin’at being bad.

Here’s where the road splits, however, because the Mets won the World Series in Seaver’s third season. The Giants aren’t going to win the World Series. In fact, they’ll probably be worse than last year, leaving Cain pitching at the bottom of the standings for another year.

That’s all he’s known to this point. The Giants were 15 games under .500 when Cain made his major-league debut. The team finished nine games under .500 in 2006 and 20 games under .500 last year.

And now he’s got to be going into this season wondering if he’ll get any help — again. After a season in which he endured his team scoring two runs or less in 20 of his 30 starts, Cain finds himself surrounded by 24 teammates even more challenged to score runs — good guys, just not great hitters.

Last season, Cain ranked 10th among National League starters in ERA, but was the only pitcher of those 10 to post a sub-.500 record, and he was a miserable 6-17. Even Ian Snell of the Pittsburgh Pirates, with a 3.76 ERA, managed to go 9-12.

So what does Cain have to look forward to this season? Pitching a shutout every fifth day? If he can just keep his ERA below 1.00, he’ll have a chance? Exactly when will he pitch in an important game? 2010?

Cain is as good a young pitcher as there is in baseball and the prospect of getting nothing for all that talent for another entire season is going to be very, very tough to get through.

And that’s got me worried.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner.

Other Sportssports

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Anti-eviction demonstrators rally outside San Francisco Superior Court. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Report: Unpaid rent due to COVID-19 could be up to $32.7M per month

A new city report that attempts to quantify how much rent has… Continue reading

Music venues around The City have largely been unable to reopen due to ongoing pandemic health orders. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF to cut $2.5M in fees to help 300 nightlife venues

San Francisco will cut $2.5 million in fees for hundreds of entertainment… Continue reading

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett departs the U.S. Capitol on October 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after Ginsburg’s death. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
GOP senators confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court in partisan vote

By Jennifer Haberkorn Los Angeles Times The Senate on Monday confirmed Judge… Continue reading

Curator Tim Burgard looks over a section of the galleries comprising “The de Young Open,” a huge, varied collection of work by Bay Area artists. (Photo courtesy Gary Sexton/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)
Bay Area artists jam-pack vivid ‘de Young Open’

Huge exhibition — with works for sale — showcases diversity, supports community

SF Board of Education vice president Gabriela Lopez and commissioner Alison Collins listen at a news conference condemning recent racist and social media attacks targeted at them and the two student representatives on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Online attacks on school board members denounced by city officials

City officials on Monday condemned the targeting of school board members, both… Continue reading

Most Read