Erik Klackner. 30th August, 2005 - 5:57 pm
The day Matt Cain makes his Major League debut, I find it fitting to travel back in time. But we're not going very far. Hop in, as we journey all the way back to last week, to a matchup that had Giants fans drooling. And yet, for a meeting as potentially interesting to these fans as anything that immediately springs to my mind, it sure couldn't have happened under more inauspicious circumstances. Cheney Stadium. Tacoma, Washington. 12:35 pm. Paid crowd of 4,956, though if there were that many, I sure didn't see them. The Fresno Grizzlies and Tacoma Rainiers squared off in what ended up being a 13-inning marathon won 9-4 by Fresno, but the real story was the pitching matchup: Matt Cain versus Jesse Foppert.
After a stellar high school and college career in the Bay Area, Foppert was drafted 74th and quickly shot through the Giants organization and became their top pitching prospect. I vividly remember reading a quote from newly inducted Hall of Famer Peter Gammons saying, ?Jesse Foppert will win a Cy Young Award within the next 5 years.? An elbow injury halted his progress and he had to have Tommy John surgery. The 2005 season was his first chance to resurrect his promising career, but he struggled, as was to be expected. In July, Foppert was the primary prospect in the recent deal that brought the Giants Randy Winn.
Fast forward 5 years. The Giants new top pitching prospect is Matt Cain, a 20-year old phenom from Tennessee who has a devastating array of power pitches. With all the players in the Giants minor league system who have been traded over the last several years, Cain has remained untouchable, and with good reason. He is the future. The future that Foppert used to be.
My younger brother and I got to the park at noon, and lo and behold, it was Mascot Day, which meant a dance off between Rhubarb, the Rainiers Mascot (I don't get the connection either), Chuck E. Cheese, Boomer the Thunderbird, and a handful of other area team reps. It had always been a dream of mine to see an oversized stuffed dog doing ?The Sprinkler;? I can now die happy.
Jesse Foppert took the mound and simply dealt. He sailed through the Grizzlies batting order for 3 innings, effectively mixing what is now ?only? a solid fastball with a really nice splitter and slider. He struck out 2 batters, and there wasn't a single ball that was hit with any authority. His command was exceptional: he threw a first-pitch strike to 8 of the 9 batters. I thought the stage was set for a duel between these two crossroads of a franchise. But Foppert was lifted after his 3 perfect innings, for reasons I do not know. What I do know is that if those 3 innings were any indication at all, Foppert will be back in the Major Leagues very soon.
Matt Cain nearly matched Foppert, pitching six shutout innings and giving up only 4 hits and 1 walk. He struck out 7, using an absolutely overpowering fastball, what appeared to be an extremely tight curveball, and very rarely a solid changeup. The fastball was terrific and had real electricity to it; the curveball was tight and thrown for strikes; the changeup had quality arm speed, and really fooled the hitters the two times I specifically recall seeing it. The big thing I noticed about Cain was his ability to get out of the small jams he was in: his lone walk came pitching from the stretch in the 2nd inning, making it 1st and 2nd with only one out. But he retired the next two batters on a foul out and routine fly out to center to escape the inning. In the 5th, Cain gave up a 1-out triple, but retired the next two batters on a strike out and fly out to left. It is widely expected that Cain will be called up in September, and while I might prefer that they be careful with him, he is certainly deserving of an opportunity.
As someone who has been a fan of the Giants for as long as I can remember, it was a treat to see the organization's top prospect in action for the first time. But it was even more special because it was a chance to see the organization's previous top prospect as well. It was everything I hoped it would be. Especially the Sprinkler-dancing dog.