One year ago Thursday, the emotions of starting pitchers Matt Cain and Charlie Morton were on opposite ends of the spectrum. As Morton prepared for career-altering Tommy John surgery, Cain jubilantly celebrated in the arms of his teammates at AT&T Park after twirling the first perfect game in Giants history, and just the 22nd in Major League history.
In Cain's masterpiece a year ago Thursday, he struck out 14 Astros hitters, which tied Sandy Koufax's mark for the most in a perfect game. His game score that day was 101, the highest for any pitcher since Kerry Wood recorded 105 in his 20-strikeout performance (also against the Astros) in 1998. Game score is a statistic that rates pitchers' starts (typically from 0 to 100) based on innings pitched, runs, hits, strikeouts and walks. The average game score is usually around 50.
While Cain has had an up-and-down season after his storybook 2012 campaign ended with a World Series championship, Morton is simply happy to be in the big leagues. It will be his 89th career Major League start, but Thursday's outing will mark the culmination of an eventful year-long journey.
His start against the Giants will be the first since undergoing Tommy John surgery 364 days ago, as Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of the operation.
"It's hard to describe," the 29-year-old right-hander said Wednesday. "I'm not really emotional right now. I think the biggest thing honestly was, the largest emotional event in the rehab, was the first bullpen. And the first [extended spring training] game, which was April 8. That's kind of like you're testing the waters a little bit and you can sense where you are. Tomorrow, yeah, I just appreciate it."
Morton, who posted a 1-2 record with a 3.32 ERA in 40 2/3 innings with three Pittsburgh Minor League affiliates this season, is replacing the injured Wandy Rodriguez in the Pirates rotation. Manager Clint Hurdle wouldn't elaborate on what the future holds for Morton after Thursday's start against a depleted Giants lineup that will not include regulars Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval or Marco Scutaro.
"I haven't seen [Morton]," Hurdle said. "I've seen video -- it's not the same, so I'm looking forward to seeing it. Actually, if we can go get the Charlie that we had in the first half of the season in 2011, we'll take that in a bottle and roll.
"I always get excited when these guys are able to come back. It's one day inside of a year from Tommy John. It's impressive in and of itself, but if he doesn't go out and pitch well, it's less impressive."
Giants: Struggles against the Central
After losing the first two games of the series with Pittsburgh, the Giants have fallen to 5-10 against the National League Central this season. Last year, San Francisco dispatched Central foes with regularity, winning 27 of 41 matchups, the second-best mark in the Senior Circuit to the Nationals.
The Giants have fallen to 12-20 on the road this season and have dropped 12 of their last 16 contests away from home.
Pirates: Setting the standard at home
Pittsburgh won its 23rd home game of the season Wednesday, the most of any NL team.
The Pirates have now won three in a row at home and 13 of their last 16 at PNC Park.
• Despite the ailments currently facing Giants manager Bruce Bochy's lineup, San Francisco scored eight runs and slugged 15 hits Wednesday, but lost as Barry Zito's road troubles continued. Bochy will return to the dugout after serving a one-game suspension handed down after Tuesday's ejection as the Giants try to avoid a sweep.
• Pirates closer Jason Grilli, who pitched a shutout inning Wednesday, was originally drafted by the Giants with the fourth overall pick of the 1997 Draft. He was traded to the Marlins two seasons later. He currently leads the league with 23 saves.
• Giants catcher Buster Posey has thrown out just six of 42 basestealers in 2013. Eighteen consecutive runners have stolen safely on him.