Tim Lincecum

Before I mention the Giants loss on Thursday night, I wanted to tell a story. It’s about a man named Tim Lincecum.

After blazing through Pac 10 hitters at the University of Washington, this man named Tim Lincecum was the 10th pick of the Giants in the first round of the 2006 Amateur draft. He made minor leaguers look like little leaguers for a short while before being fast tracked to the major leagues. He was a 150-pound fire breathing dragon, throwing the baseball in the high 90s with a Bugs Bunny-like wind ’em up delivery. In his second year in the majors, he dominated hitters, going 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA, fanning 265 batters on a bad, 90-loss Giants team and earned the Cy Young Award. The following year, he had an even better year, lowering his ERA and bringing his WHIP down to a microscopic 1.047 in winning yet another Cy Young.

His 2010 year was unlike 2008 and 2009 during the regular season. He was giving up over a hit more than he’d ever giving up per game. His invincibility was being tested. While his season was still good enough, it wasn’t freak-like. But in the postseason, he was back to being nearly invincible, helping the once bad baseball team win a World Series championship. The world was his oyster. In 2011, the wins weren’t there, but most of his stats showed that he was still dominant most times. He was walking more hitters and striking out less with a slower than usual fastball, but his stuff was evolving. He was “pitching”. And in 2012, it all came crashing down. Fast.

Tim Lincecum’s 2012 was ugly. According to him, there wasn’t anything physically wrong. We didn’t have an injury to blame for his ever-decreasing fastball velocity. I personally think it’s fastball confidence. Since he doesn’t throw as hard anymore, he’s worried about his fastball being hit all over the place and thus misses with it too often. But maybe he got civilized. I have to go back to one of the greatest pieces of cinema in history, Rocky III to explain. In the film, Rocky’s trainer Mickey tries to tell Rocky that he should retire instead of face the ruthless Clubber Lang. He tells Rocky that he hasn’t been hungry of late even though he’s been winning fights.

He says, “But then, the worst thing happened to you that could happen to any fighter. You got civilized.”

Lincecum had so much success from the start including the World Series championship that he may have lost his edge as much as he lost his fastball. And no, this isn’t a big setup to say that Lincecum needs to get back his “Eye of the Tiger”. But when you lose something like your fastball which is a pitcher’s best friend, you have to reinvent yourself. Lincecum is used to reaching back and throwing heat and then flipping his change up on the very next pitch. But it’s not working now like it used to. So what does it all mean?

Well, after his game four performance, it means he may have to go back to the drawing board if he’s going to reclaim his status as one of the best pitchers in the game. I think most Giants fans were okay with him starting game four because of his relief performances which had “big game” written all over them. Maybe Timmy was one of the few athletes who could raise his game when it counted most. But it wasn’t meant to be. The most telling moment of the game (for TV viewers) was Tim McCarver explaining why Lincecum had been wild early in the game. He was throwing against his body, which meant his mechanics were all out of sorts. We’re in October and he’s pitching with the season on the line and his mechanics are all out of sorts? This isn’t spring training.

(By the way, it was just about McCarver’s only meaningful insight all series long. He has a semi-erection for the defensive abilities of Angel Pagan, which is hard to understand. Giants fans who have watched Pagan take rainbow routes to balls would disagree that Pagan is anything more than an average defender who won’t take a chance on a ball to save his life. He’s a pitcher’s worst friend patrolling centerfield while unable to get a good read on bloopers that fall in but should be caught. And he has a less than average arm to boot. McCarver and Joe Buck went out of their way to praise his defense, oddly in a game the Giants were losing. And the play they were complimenting was one in which Pagan took a bad route and let a ball fall in and nearly let it go past him, closing his eyes and ducking his head out of the way on a slide to short hop the baseball. Maybe they were just trolling Giants fans.)

Linecum didn’t get out of the fifth inning on Thursday night, giving up four earned runs and walking as many as he struck out (three). He didn’t give the Giants a chance to win and was maddening to watch. He couldn’t spot his fastball and was throwing slider after slider because it was a pitch he could consistently throw a strike with. The offseason is going to be an interesting one for Lincecum. Maybe there will be an excuse for his poor 2012. But unless the Giants make a miraculous comeback against the Cardinals, it will be his last performance of a terrible season. It was probably right in line with most of them.

After the Cardinals easy-peasy 8-3 victory on Thursday, it put them within one win of getting back to the World Series in a season where if they didn’t defend their title, you wouldn’t have blamed them. They’ve dealt with a ton of adversity and yet because they can hit, have a nasty ‘pen, and their bench players are just as good as their regulars, they are ready to get back. It should be commended.

But it doesn’t mean the Giants are dead and gone. They need to find that same spark they had in Cincinnati in the NLDS. It was just over a week ago when the Giants won three-in-a-row to beat the Reds and advance. They played with their backs against the wall and had a never-say-die attitude. They will need to channel that same attitude starting Friday. Can they win three games in a row like they did in Cincinnati?

If so, it’s going to start with Barry Zito which makes most Giants fans cringe. Zito starts on Friday against Lance Lynn. Just take a look at his career totals as a Giant after signing the huge 126-million dollar contract in 2007.

Zito’s Giants stats

The stat that Giants fans like to look at to make them feel better about their chances is a 12-0 record in Zito’s last 12 starts. The fact that his ERA is over 4.00 and he’s given up many more hits than innings pitched in those starts is just anecdotal. The fact is that they are 12-0!

But truly, without any snark whatsoever, if anything makes me feel better as a Giants fan, it’s the #RallyZito Twitter meme that’s going around where Giants fans are changing their Twitter avatars to the many goofy Barry Zito photos that are sitting in Google Images.

Will #RallyZito help Barry Zito to pitch the game of his life? No. It’s up to him. But at least Giants fans can be on the brink of elimination and yet, still have an amazing sense of humor. They are the best fans in the league.

Photo of Tim Lincecum by artlog shared via Creative Commons

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