Giants, Bonds beat Curse of Cain, win big on Jewish night

Not that it was much solace to him, but Matt Cain was one of the greatest 3-12 pitchers in history.

The 22-year-old right-hander’s other statistics are solid, and he’s shown flashes of brilliance — but thanks to the San Francisco Giants’ anemic bats he’s a dark horse candidate to lose 20 games this year.

You might call it the “Curse of Cain.” But on Aug. 8, Cain’s luck changed for the better. For he was wearing uniform No. 18 — on Jewish Heritage Night.

“You all know this one from Friday night. Sholom Aleichem: Let’s go!” shouted Rabbi Yehuda Ferris before leading his band, the Ferris Wheels, into a tzitzit-shaking rendition of the Hebrew standard in front of AT&T Park prior to the game.

Men in black hats and women in long denim skirts gyrated in the shadow of the Willie Mays sculpture until shortly before the game began (some missing Rabbi Stephen Pearce’s juuuuuust-a-bit-outside ceremonial first pitch or Redwood High School’s Jamie Goldberg of Larkspur being awarded the $2,500 Art Rosenbaum High School Sportswriting scholarship for the second straight year).

After Cain worked through the first inning, Barry Bonds extended the career home run record he’d set the night before, belting a two-run laser beam into McCovey Cove to stake the Giants to a 2-0 lead over the Washington Nationals. The crowd turned ecstatic, but — evidenced by the presence of Jewish Heritage paraphernalia from past years — the Jewish contingent of 2,892 knew better than to exude overconfidence. The team was 0-for-2 in its previous Jewish Heritage Night games, and had even taken a 3-0 lead in last year’s contest before surrendering six unanswered runs.

Yet as Cain worked deep into the game, it appeared that this night might not be like other nights: The team was scoring runs and the relief would not blow Cain’s lead.

Incidentally, despite his biblical-sounding name, Cain — a native of Dothan, Ala. — is not Jewish. Neither, apparently, is Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

“He changed his name just for tonight. He was originally named ‘Dylan,'” quipped Joel Gomberg of Oakland.

Nationals outfielder Ryan Church, however, did not change his name to Ryan Temple, Ryan Synagogue or Ryan Shul for the evening.

The nearly 2,900 tickets sold is a 71 percent jump from last year’s tally of 1,700. Jewish fans from every corner of the Bay enjoyed klezmer music between innings, Rabbi Yosef “Rally Rabbi” Langer shouting “play ball” in Hebrew prior to the game (Micah Bloom, son of Temple Beth Abraham’s Rabbi Mark Bloom did the same in English) and, of course, the Rally Rabbi bobblehead.

An official total of 18 — hmmm, 18 again — Bay Area Jewish organizations brought contingents; those included six congregations, three Jewish federations and the newspaper you’re reading.

Also present were green sweatshirt-clad and long-skirted campers from Camp Emunah, a Chabad-affiliated traveling camp for girls. One of the campers was 15-year-old Tova Zarchi, the youngest sister of Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi of San Francisco’s Orthodox Chevra Thilim. She is the youngest — and last — of 11 Zarchi children, meaning the Zarchi household could provide its own baseball team complete with relief pitching.

The director of that camp, Rabbi Shaya Gansbourg, heard about the night through Langer, and obtained tickets for his nearly 40 teenaged campers. For more than a few, it was their first baseball game.

“My favorite thing is seeing the Jews of the Bay Area getting together, being happy and supporting each other,” said Gansbourg, also the spiritual leader of Chabad of Harlem (yes, it exists).

“It’s important to me to see Jews get together no matter what their affiliations are.”

Gansbourg then took a cell phone call during which he told his interlocutor “so sue me,” and finished up with a hearty “Zie Gezunt!”

Standing nearby and bedecked in the orange “Go Giants” T-shirt from Jewish Heritage Night 2005 and last year’s giveaway cap, Simon Cohen of Livermore could only laugh at what was shaping up to be an atypically bountiful night for the home team. Cain — 1-for-37 at the plate coming into the game — launched an improbable homer into the left field bleachers, extending the Giants lead to 3-0.

The team went on to win for the first time on Jewish Heritage Night, shutting out the Nats, 5-0.

“I’m out here to experience baseball with a little Jewish soul,” said Cohen, who brought 36 of his fellow congregants from Pleasanton’s Congregation Beth Emek along with him.

“I’ll make any excuse to take my family to a Jewish experience” — and if it’s at a ballpark, so much the better.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.