Only San Francisco Giants fans turn Tim Lincecum’s demotion into yet another reason to go crazy.
Perhaps it’s all the practice they received partying the nights away while watching most reviled superstar of his generation, chemical man Barry Bonds, pursue a career home-run record nobody else much wanted him to break.
But it’s one thing to dance on the grave of baseball history and another thing to dance on the grave of a career, isn’t it?
Not when you’re winning, apparently.
When Lincecum enters a game from the bullpen to Young Blood by New Zealand band The Naked and Famous, it’s party time at AT&T Park – as it was when he was one of the most dominant starters in the game, winning two National League Cy Young Awards.
And the truth is that while Lincecum’s future appears cloudy – general manager Brian Sabean is said to be open to exploring trade options and manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti have said all season his velocity drop can’t be cured on the fly, that it will take a winter and spring training and some serious soul-searching and video work to crack this tough nut – it has been subjugated for the greater good.
“It is an uplifting thing,” Lincecum said of the way his entry into games is celebrated as opposed to dreaded.
In four relief appearances during the 2012 postseason, Lincecum has allowed one earned run and struck out 14 in 10 2/3 innings. Most importantly, he has walked just one batter in his relief role. Lincecum struck out five in 2 1/3 innings in Game 1 of the World Series, an 8-3 win over the Detroit Tigers, when he came on for another pitcher who has been in his own purgatory in recent years, Barry Zito.
Coupled with Justin Verlander starting for the Tigers, it was the second time in Series history that three Cy Young Award winners appeared in the game game. (Jim Palmer came on in relief of Baltimore Orioles starter Mike Flanagan on Oct. 14, 1983, against Philadelphia Phillies starter Steve Carlton.)
Zito was left off the playoff roster last year, so he and Lincecum have found a degree of solace in each other’s company.
“He’s had a crazy journey,” Lincecum said of the veteran left-hander.
There is much concern about Lincecum within the Giants front office, since his unique, maximum-torque delivery – taught to him by his father because he was so slight of frame – may not age well. Of more concern were rumours of a rift between Lincecum and catcher Buster Posey, the latter of whom is the franchise cornerstone.
The bullpen has been a short-term fix, Lincecum admitted, because pitching out of the stretch instead of the wind-up has allowed him to “think about where I want to throw the ball, as opposed to how it’s going to get there.”
Lincecum is one of the game’s most engaging personalities, although he seems to dumb it down a bit in the postseason, especially when faced with the usual media crush.
After Game 1, he was pressed into a corner – literally, that’s where his locker is in the clubhouse – wearing a grey wool tuque and California cool slacks and shirt. Tailored skateboarder.
“I’m going around and around here,” he said softly, answering questions about third baseman Pablo Sandoval and Zito and the move to the bullpen for the zillionth time.
There was a bemused look on his face when somebody suggested he might have a future as a reliever. Twenty-eight years old and they’re already writing off his ability to start.
“I’m not really surprised I’ve been able to do this, to be honest,” Lincecum said. “People keep asking what’s allowed me to do this, and it’s really just keeping an open mind. That, and just getting outs when I need them.
“Guys up here are mentally strong,” he said. “It’s the grind of baseball – position changes, role changes. I don’t want to make a regular thing out of this, but the way I look at it is if we’re going to do it now, I might as well be positive.
“It’s not about me or my next start. It’s about winning.”