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Matt Cain knocked off Hall of Fame ballot in first year eligible

© Neville E. Guard | 2022 May 7

Matt Cain, the career Giants starter, didn’t come close to the necessary 5% of votes required to remain on the Baseball Writers Association of America Hall of Fame Ballot. 

None of the 405 ballots mailed out to voters came back with Cain’s name checked off. With zero votes, Cain falls off the ballot after his only year of eligibility. Scott Rolen, elected just barely by the BBWAA, and Fred McGriff, via the veterans committee, comprise the 2023 Hall of Fame class.

Cain spent all 13 years of his career in San Francisco, bridging the Barry Bonds era with the three-in-five golden years. The righty was a major component in the Giants’ first two World Series runs and earned three All-Star selections. 

The one-and-done outcome isn’t surprising given Cain’s career 3.68 ERA and 104-118 record. He amassed 29.1 career WAR, less than half the average Hall of Fame pitcher. 

Though he won’t get a plaque in Cooperstown, Cain became a hero in San Francisco, where he’s already featured on the team’s Wall of Fame. 

On June 13, 2012, Cain tossed one of the 21 perfect games in the World Series era when he blanked the Houston Astros in AT&T Park. The historic start is one of the most memorable games to take place in the Giants’ waterfront ballpark. 

Cain fanned 14 and needed 125 pitches to get 27 consecutive outs. The magical night included a spectacular diving catch from Gregor Blanco and an underrated play from third baseman Joaquín Arias to cap it. 

Two months and two days later, Seattle’s Félix Hernández threw another perfect game. No pitcher has accomplished the feat since. 

Nicknamed “The Horse” after his sizable stature, Cain made at least 30 starts every year from 2006 to 2013. Many of his traditional stats are misleading due to the phenomenon commonly known as “getting Cained,” in which his teams seemed to rarely provide ample run support during his starts. 

In 2011, for instance, Cain went just 12-11 despite posting a 2.88 ERA and earning down ballot Cy Young votes. In the 13-year span he pitched in, Cain ranked sixth in quality starts — at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs — that resulted in a no-decision. 

Cain debuted for the Giants in 2005 and finished after the 2017 season. Other than his perfect game, his defining moment came in the 2010 postseason, when he helped will the franchise to its first World Series title since 1954. 

In the NLDS against the Braves, he tossed 6.2 innings while allowing one unearned run, though the bullpen blew his lead late. He added a seven-inning shutout against the Phillies in the NLCS and a World Series gem (7.2 IP, 4H, 0R) in Game 2 at home. 

With that October performance, Cain became the fifth pitcher ever to throw at least 20 postseason innings without allowing an earned run. 

Cain made five starts in San Francisco’s 2012 run but surgery to repair loose bone chips in his right elbow sidelined him for the 2014 ring chase. In eight career playoff starts, Cain went 4-2 with a 2.10 ERA. 

Injuries forced a decline and eventually a retirement at age 32, preventing Cain from accuring the sustained excellence required by the Hall of Fame. 

The last player to get elected to the Hall of Fame after spending more than one year with the San Francisco Giants was Orlando Cepeda, who was elected by the veterans committee in 1999. That’s tied with Kansas City as the longest drought for players among MLB franchises. 

Cain, like his co-ace Tim Lincecum, got knocked off the ballot after one turn. The Giants’ next chance at Cooperstown could be Buster Posey, who becomes eligible in 2027. 

 

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