Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter Wednesday jogged the memory to the year he joined the San Francisco Giants.
It was 2007, Barry Bonds’ controversial swan-song season. He finished off his all-time home-run record that many people don’t accept today while the Giants fast-tracked to oblivion. They went 71-91, bottom feeders in the National League West. They had not advanced to the playoffs since 2003. Nothing suggested any sudden turnaround.
There were forces at work, however, that are better seen in crystal-clear hindsight. Bruce Bochy took charge as manager while the Giants overpaid for Barry Zito. And, in early May, the Giants called up a scrawny 5-foot-11 right-hander with flowing dark locks, a tilted slingshot windup and zero fear.
Lincecum had arrived. The Giants would not be the same again.
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Not only was Lincecum armed with an electric mid-90s fastball and table-dropping curve, he also possessed something the Giants had not witnessed in years. He had what is known in today’s vernacular as “it,” that certain something that’s hard to define but unmistakable to the eye and the senses.
We watched some of Lincecum’s “it” factor during Wednesday afternoon’s 4-0 win over the San Diego Padres. Even at age 30, as his velocity drops and his ERA rises, he still can summon the magic on the right day. It was his second no-hitter against the Padres in less than a year, and he also became the first pitcher since Philadelphia’s Rick Wise 43 years ago to throw a no-hitter and stroke two hits.
Only true athletes can accomplish that.
Lincecum needed just 113 pitches, 35 fewer than last year’s no-no. Only Chase Headley’s walk in the second inning separated Lincecum from a perfect game. He struck out six, and only one of the outs was hit hard. Unlike last year, when Hunter Pence’s diving catch preserved Lincecum’s clean slate, no defensive heroics were needed this day.
For those who downsize Lincecum’s feat because he twice mastered the offense-challenged Padres, remember this: He’s only the second pitcher in franchise history to throw two no-hitters. The other was Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson in 1901 and ’05 a few moons ago.
Giants fans always have loved Lincecum, even through his recent struggles. If nothing else, he changed the mood when he joined the club. Suddenly, there was a path ahead after Bonds. Before his third full season in the big leagues, he already had annexed two Cy Young Awards. Then came 2010 and two World Series titles over the next three years.
To appreciate Lincecum is to fully grasp the Giants’ big picture. It’s an important point, especially given his 5-5 record and 4.90 ERA before Wednesday.
Lincecum has not been an elite pitcher in several years. In the 2012 World Series, he was reduced to bullpen duty. He was shutdown good, however, and contributed to the Giants’ sweep over Detroit. That October said something about Lincecum’s character.
This is another reason why Lincecum is respected both by fans and his teammates. He is the consummate team player. His on-the-field deportment is perfect. Not once, at least in my memory, has he shown up an opponent or an umpire. The shaggy hair may be gone, but his demeanor is unchanged.
Watching him labor has been unsettling for the Giants. There are many nights when his fastball is a pitch-by-pitch adventure. He still can’t hold base runners, and when he’s forced into his stretch windup (with runners on), his quality free-falls. Critics wondered aloud why the Giants signed him for $35 million for this season and 2015.
Here’s why: Check out the daily sellouts at AT&T Park. That kind of fan support isn’t generated by accident or even by mere results. If that were the case, the Miami Marlins (two-time World Series champions) would play to packed houses like the Giants. They don’t.
The folks in the Giants’ front office understand what Lincecum means to the organization. They don’t take home the big prize twice without him. They probably don’t even get close.
The Giants’ success is predicated on pitching, and it’s pitching that will be called on to dig them out of their current slump. Lincecum’s performance was well-timed, but they’ll ask more from him. Can he deliver every-start effectiveness again?
That question will be answered in the coming months. That said, what he did against San Diego served as a reminder of who Lincecum is and what he’s done in San Francisco.
If his arm explodes off his shoulder in his next start, he walks away from the game with two world titles, two Cy Youngs and two no-hitters.
I’d call that a nice career’s work.