Good News For Tim Lincecum


San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum threw 148 pitches, but completed a no-hitter in a 9-0 win over San Diego Saturday night. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It was fun while it lasted–as most things are involving Tim Lincecum–and you have to be happy for the guy. But even though the San Francisco Giants hurler threw a no-hitter Saturday night it doesn’t mask the fact that he has been having a lousy year. The two-time Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series champion is still just 5-9 with a 4.26 earned run average.

For this day and age Lincecum threw a humongous 148 pitches to capture the 9-0 shutout of the San Diego Padres. Although Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he was nervous allowing Lincecum to throw so many pitches and that he was very much hoping he didn’t break the 150 barrier, Bochy left the dude in the game to tough it out and achieve the milestone. Not every manager would have allowed his starter to go past seven innings, even if he was throwing a no-hitter, if he was approaching that type of pitch count.

Lincecum has always been a well-spoken player with a thoughtful, if sometimes off-beat take on things. Immediately after finishing the no-hitter he seemed a big dazed. “It’s pretty surreal for me just to be part of that,” Lincecum said. “I’m still kind of pinching myself right now.”

This game demonstrates some of the vagaries of baseball. Why, on this night, during a season when Lincecum has not been at his best, is he able to pitch a no-hitter? Why not during one of his best seasons? Go figure. There are no answers for that one. Baseball is improv, not a scripted stage play.

The guy known as “The Freak” has been good for the game, a colorful individual, and entertaining to watch, so you’ve got to feel good for him and this surprise triumph. Yet outside of preserving a wonderful slice in time for Lincecum it is very unclear if the showing means anything in the big picture. Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds recently pitched his second no-hitter since September, yet he has been hit hard in his next two starts. Throwing the no-hitter didn’t even mean Bailey was in a groove, just that he had a great night.

A right-hander with surprising pop in his fastball despite standing just 5-foot-11, Lincecum struck out 13 Padres. He had to work to get his no-no–148 pitches is a significant number even in the old days when nobody really kept track. He can only hope that the memorable game means he is returning to the everyday sharpness he showed as a four-time All-Star and a three-time National League strikeout champion.

Lincecum is 29 and in his seventh Major League season and although he had some shaky moments in 2011 despite a fine earned run average, everything turned sour for him on the mound last year, even as the Giants were on their way to winning the Series. He finished 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA, which meant that he went from being an unhittable pitcher to an everybody-hits-today pitcher. He lost his place in the starting rotation during the playoffs, but happily for him and his team Lincecum rebounded with some great relief sessions when San Francisco needed him to overcome the Detroit Tigers.

The October performance heartened Lincecum and the Giants and over the winter it was easy to think that he would return to normalcy at the start of the 2013 season. But that has not happened. Lincecum still has his moments when he is a terrific pitcher, but consistency has abandoned him. No-hitter aside his 2013 season more resembles his disappointing 2012 season, not the excellent earlier years of his career.

Pitching a no-hitter was a feel-good snapshot for Lincecom, but it does not accurately represent the entirety of his season. Too bad that it doesn’t. A sharp-throwing Tim Lincecum is good for baseball. Throwing a no-hitter puts Lincecum on an all-time list for the accomplishment and it gives him and his family scrapbook material to appreciate later in life. Maybe, just maybe, also, Lincecum found a groove versus San Diego that can carry over and get him going again.