On August 7, 2004, I was present for Greg Maddux’s 300th win at Mays Field. As far as milestones go, it was pretty anticlimactic. Maddux had owned the Giants in the years leading up to the game, he was going against the completely forgettable Brad Hennessey, and even then Maddux only pitched 5 innings, giving up 4 earned runs in a 8-4 Cubs victory.
It was obviously big day for the media and Maddux, but when the final out was recorded the atmosphere at Mays Field was about as exciting as what you’d see at a WNBA game. Sure I’d witnessed history, and I have the ticket stashed in a shoebox somewhere in my closet. But since it took 4 scoreless innings from 5 different Cubs relievers to cement the win, it just didn’t seem that awesome. In fact, what I’d seen wouldn’t have really affected me at all except that Maddux pitched (and lost) in the first ever game I had seen live, a 9-2 win for the Giants over the Cubs on July 18, 1987.
As Randy Johnson sits on win No. 299, I have to admit: I am not at the edge of my seat. Sure I’ll watch to see if he picks up his 300th on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and it’s cool to see a future Hall-of-Famer practice his craft in San Francisco, across the bay from his hometown of Livermore.
It’s obviously an amazing milestone that I’ll appreciate, but I have to be honest: I didn’t like the Big Unit very much until this season. So when Johnson joined the Giants I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down. I saw it as a calculated expenditure by an organization that isn’t that adept at winning playoff series, but has no peers when it comes to celebrating history.In a pickup basketball game, what the Giants did in signing Johnson would be called “cherry-picking.”
It’s not like bringing Johnson to San Francisco was the same as when the Giants forced their fans to hold their noses and root for Orel Hershiser for a season. Hershiser was a Dodger, he was the guy to piss off Matt Williams with incessant trash talk from the opposing dugout and he was the Johnson’s Baby Shampoo guy (although shampoo commercials starring Johnson would have been pretty funny, especially when his mullet was at its longest).
While the media and the Giants will rightfully celebrate Johnson’s achievement if he goes 5 innings and earns a win over the bottomfeeding Nationals (or is it “Natinals”?), I have to say I’m much more excited about the progress of Matt Cain than watching Johnson help the Giants sell commemorative “Win No. 300” pins. Sorry about the cynicism, but a life devoid of World Series championships will do that to a guy.
Cain has become the pitcher we all hoped he’d be, and most importantly, he’s ours. Sure, Cain may end up getting traded in the next couple years, or jump ship when his current contract expires and bounce around the Majors for the rest of his career like Johnson did, but we’ve watched Cain grow up as a Giant — not an Expo/Mariner/Astro/Diamondback/Yankee/Diamondback.
When Johnson was a young, freakishly tall curiosity in Montreal, walking 7 or 8 guys per 9 innings, Giant fans didn’t suffer. We suffered when Johnson moved to the National League and became the best pitcher of the 1990’s, when he paired with Curt Schilling to become the most hated and feared pitching duo in baseball.
We’ve watched Cain struggle with command, poor run support, bullpen meltdowns over the past couple seasons, and we suffered with him. As Cain soars toward his first All-Star Game and a possible 20-win season (too soon?), it feels much more rewarding than when Jason Schmidt came to the Giants in a mid-season deal and took off, or how I’ll feel when Johnson reaches a milestone everyone seems to agree will never be reached again.
And are we really so sure of that? Even after two hard-luck seasons that brought to mind names like Maroth more than Maddux, Cain still sits at 36 wins at the age of 24. The Unit didn’t reach 36 wins until he was 28. It would take a ton of luck, but it isn’t out of the question that with a new changeup in his arsenal, Cain could win his 300th game himself someday.
It sounds crazy, but if Cain finishes with 18 wins this year, he’d need to average 17 wins per year for 15 seasons to reach 300. If he’s somehow able to pitch into his mid-40’s like Johnson, who knows? It still isn’t likely Cain (or Lincecum, who’s older than Cain by 3.5 months and sits at 29 career wins) will reach the magic number of 300, but if they do I’ll feel much more of a connection than when Johnson does.