Tim Lincecum has had a rough couple of years.
After winning the Cy Young award his first two years and helping to lead the Giants to a championship the next year, he somehow lost it. Last year he was bad, in fact the worst starting pitcher in baseball. He still struck a lot of hitters out, but also gave up for too many walks and home runs. He was generally lucky to last through the sixth inning. For the post-season, he was demoted to the bullpen, where he was brilliant, but for only two or three innings at a time. This year, he’s a starter again, but only marginally more successfully than last year. Once again, he’s usually lucky to get through the sixth. There was no sign that tonight’s game against the Padres would be any different.
Through the fifth, the Padres had had only two base-runners, a walk and a hit-by-pitch, and neither made it past first. Lincecum already had eight strikeouts. In the sixth, he faltered, putting men on first and third by allowing two walks, a stolen base, and a wild pitch, and then, with two out, gave up a line shot to the cleanup hitter, Carlos Quentin. Fortunately, it was right at the shortstop, Brandon Crawford, and Lincecum was out of the inning.
In the seventh, another strikeout, a fly out, and then a shot down the third baseline. Pablo Sandoval, showing amazing agility for a man who weight five hundred pounds, lunged to his right, grabbed it, and, despite his considerable momentum taking him in the wrong direction, turned and threw out Jesus Guzman by two steps.
In the eighth, a strikeout, an easy grounder to Sandoval, and a sinking liner to right that everyone in the park thought was a hit, but somehow a diving Hunter Pence got his glove under it. By now, Lincecum had thrown 130 pitches. Ordinarily, pitchers come out after about 100, so there was a real question who would pitch the ninth.
And the answer was “Lincecum”. Yet another strikeout (thirteen in all), and two more fly balls to the outfield. On the last one, while Lincecum was watching Gregor Blanco put it away, the Giants’ catcher Buster Posey sneaked towards the mound and lifted a very surprised Timmy off the ground with a firm bear hug. Then the other players and coaches arrived from the field, the dugout, and the bullpen, and they took turns hugging and congratulating him.
It would be nice to think that this is a turning point and he’ll be back to the Lincecum of old, but baseball usually doesn’t work that way. Most likely, he’ll finish the season still as a below-average starter. His future is probably in the bullpen, ideally as an elite closer, but possibly as a much less prestigious setup man or middle reliever. This may be the last night he’ll ever be the Tim Fishing Lincecum of 2008-2009. If so, I’m glad I got to be part of it.
P.S. This piece pays off a debt incurred almost two years ago now, when Jaybird invited me over to “write an essay or three about somewhat less pre-determined sporting events”.