For 27 outs, he was back. The hair is getting longer, reminding us of the past, the caterpillar on his lip is coming back with a soul patch, reminding us of the past in a sense of eras, and the mind-numbing ways to make a hitter look foolish reminded us of the glory days. The Freak was back as Tim Lincecum mowed down the San Diego Padres, and threw a no-hitter for the second straight year against the NL West foe.
The result was the same, but the process was different. Lincecum completed his 2013 no-hitter by throwing 148 pitches, striking out 13 Padres, and walking four more. This time around, he was who the Giants hope can be Lincecum 2.0. Only 113 pitches were needed, this time six Padres were struck out and only a second inning walk to Chase Headley prevented a perfect game.
Lincecum joined just Christy Mathewson as Giants with multiple no-hitters, but the first to do so in San Francisco.
When Lincecum came to San Francisco in 2007, he was more an enigma than a pitcher. Listed at just 5-foot-11 (on his tip toes) and 170 pounds (soaking wet), he was like this happy little kid that loved every moment of playing a game for a job. And then, he would wind up, twist his body and somehow replace his right arm with a rocket launcher and hit 99 miles per hour. He perfectly fit his nickname as “The Freak,” and reminded us why we all love baseball so much.
After his first season in a Giants uniform, he turned from an enigma to the best pitcher in all of baseball. Lincecum added two Cy Young awards to his trophy case in 2008 and 2009, and four straight All-Star Game appearances from 2008-11. In that same four-year span he had strikeout years of 265, 261, 231, and 220. From 2008-10 he led all of baseball in strikeouts. That four-year span also showed ERA’s of 2.62, 2.48, 3.43, and 2.74. The odds of this little righty twisting his body and putting all of it into throwing a ball, were being beaten one pitch at a time. Well, until 2012 happened.
Lincecum again led baseball in multiple categories, but this time those categories were losses with 15, earned runs with 107 and wild pitches with 17. On top of that, he posted a 5.18 ERA. The workload seemed to have caught up to his body. For the first time since his rookie year, Lincecum threw less than 200 innings, and his average fastball was down to a career-low of 90.4 miles per hour.
Fans wanted a trade and each time Lincecum took the mound, it seemed like you didn’t want to watch, because you just wanted to believe he was the same guy. No matter how many balls he spiked, or how many hanging curveballs turned into souvenirs, all we wanted to do was believe his next pitch would break the radar gun and his freakish skills would be back.
In the postseason that year, the Giants moved Lincecum to the bullpen and his stuff was once again making batters look foolish when they only had one chance to see him. His only loss of the postseason came in his only start. The Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series and Lincecum didn’t give up a single earned run in 4.2 innings pitched.
Last season was not too special in any sense of the way, except for the one beyond special night in San Diego. There were improvements though. Lincecum upped his innings to 197.2, he struck-out three more batters for 193, lowered his ERA to 4.37 and lost one less game. Still, no All-Star game, no Cy Young vote on this planet and the Giants did not make the postseason. The process of Lincecum 2.0 had begun and it was clear it might be a slower one than a one-night fix to 2008.
He came into Wednesday’s game with a 5-5 record and a 4.90 ERA. Was he the first choice to throw a no-hitter this season? No. But was he the last? No, because despite any numbers, we know deep down that Lincecum can still be The Freak.
On the mound, The Freak was Lincecum 2.0, and in the dugout he was the same as ever. He was seen smiling and joking and walking around, because if Lincecum acted like most during a no-hitter it would feel wrong and downright depressing.
Most importantly, while being a pitcher and not just a thrower, Lincecum was still that same enigma he has always been. We will never be able to fully explain him and that’s why we love him. His average fastball is down to 89.8 miles per hour, but yet can still put himself in the record books, and be the same old Tim that leaves his post-game interview after getting drenched, dropping an F-bomb, and then celebrating in a USA soccer jersey and trojan mask with his teammates.
Now, despite his drop in wins and many other statistics, Lincecum must still be debated as one to be cemented in the Hall of Fame. He has two Cy Young awards, two World Series rings, and has thrown two no-hitters. The only other pitcher in baseball history to do all three is Sandy Koufax.
While Lincecum’s ERA and accuracy has gotten worse, his strikeout rate has still been elite. Velocity is now an average tool for Lincecum, but he still threw 190 and 193 strikeouts the last two seasons. He is the active leader in strikeouts per nine innings in his career with 9.537, and is fifth in the history of baseball, sitting just behind Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood, Pedro Martinez, and Nolan Ryan. Even after leading the league in strikeouts from 2008-10, he was still third in 2011, and 10th the last two seasons.
In the postseason, Lincecum stacks up with the best of them. He has a 5-2 record, and a 2.47 ERA. October has been kind to Timmy and with the Giants doing their tradition of winning a World Series in even years, Lincecum will look to add to his playoff pedigree this year.
The last two seasons have been a sad showing for San Francisco’s brightest pitching star since who knows when, but let’s all remember that he’s done all of this in not even eight full seasons. He’s not what he once was, but he still is and always will be, The Freak.