That’s the spot where Tim Lincecum reaches back with his right hand to get leverage for his delivery of the ball to the plate.
And by his own admission, “today felt better than most.”
Lincecum dazzled the sold out SF Giants crowd with a “Timmy Day” performance (6 innings, 3-hits, No runs, 3 walks, 8 strikeouts, ERA 2.00).
He stopped the Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton cold, striking him out twice; the most critical one being a changeup in the 5th that ended a bases-loaded rally.
Lincecum seemed to punctuate the second Stanton strike out with a little extra English on his fist pump.
“I was pretty excited about it,” Lincecum said to me in the clubhouse. “It was a pretty emotional setting.”
Pitching with a lead also helped, thanks to a Casey McGhee grand-slam in the 2nd inning. Two more runs came in the 5th and 7th but the Giants had enough to stop the Marlins on this night, 6-0.
It was also another Filipino Heritage Night, and fans who bought the special ticket received a bobble-head that commemorated Lincecum’s second career no-hitter last year.
Later, I asked Lincecum if he drew any inspiration from these heritage nights.
“Yes, definitely,” Lincecum answered me. “I think there’s always something to be said about where you come from, and obviously, my mom is full Filipino, so that goes into it without saying. I wasn’t really focused on that today. I was focused on the task at hand…But (fans) got a cool bobble-head, and it’s on a good night.”
In an revealing interview with MLB.com, Tim Lincecum says a whole lot more than in his terse after the game clubhouse sessions.
Mostly he talks about being in a good place, how he’s learned how to create a plan from talking to teammate Chad Gaudin, and learned how to live without his blazing fastball.
In some ways, he’s so positive in the interview he sounds like he’s on some 12-step plan. Good for the Giants or maybe some other team.
That’s the speculation now as Lincecum returns to PETCO Park today for the first time since he threw the no-hitter that is now proving to be the highlight of the 2013 season for the whole team.
Here’s an excerpt:
Lincecum: Oh, things are going well. I want to see things get better and I want to get better myself. I’m just going to worry about me in the offseason and just go on to help out a team that needs it. Right now, I’m just trying to make my tools better.
(EG: Was that a major league hint? That he’s ready to say goodbye, if that happens? Gaudin, his “mentor” is a journeyman who has been around the block, maybe that’s part of the “mental” aspect of the game he’s passed on–changing uniforms, towns, teams but staying focused on one’s native athletic skill).
MLB.com: What’s the difference for you right now on the mound?
Lincecum: I think it’s taking every start individually and at a larger level, not making any one game or any one month too big or overwhelming. It can be at times and I’ve gotten ahead of myself, worrying about the future, wondering whether the stuff I have on the mound I’m going to be able to carry forward with me. That kind of negative thinking just leads nowhere. You get negative feelings and negative results out of it. I’ve just tried to steer my mindset to a different kind of thinking by feeding off the positives, even if they’re just little ones — liking myself at the end of the day, giving myself the benefit of the doubt even if the day doesn’t go great.
MLB.com: How have you been able to accomplish that?
Lincecum: I’ve had the pleasure of having Chad Gaudin on the team, who steered me in the right direction, as far as studying hitters and exploiting them the way I would like to, at least. I’ve never had anyone sit me down and do that, nor have I asked. To see the game from that perspective, that’s the way I’ve gone about it for the last 12 starts or so. Things have gotten increasingly better for me. It has me going out there with a plan, knowing that execution is the key. When anything goes wrong outside of that, I can always go back to my plan.
MLB.com: So you’re saying a lot of your problems the last two seasons have been mental?
Lincecum: Yeah, a lot of it is completely mental, just grasping the fact that I’m not going to throw 95-96 [mph] by guys anymore. I probably have to spot my fastball a lot more. That goes back to trusting it, trusting the stuff you have that day, regardless how fast it is and regardless of the fact that you’re probably not going to throw that hard again. You just have to trust it and know that it’s good stuff.
MLB.com: So why, at your age, the decrease in velocity of your fastball? Have you ever figured that out?
Lincecum: No, I think it goes back to getting into a good rhythm and timing with your body and having as many games when you have good results, but you might not be feeling at your best. That obviously goes back to being a good pitcher, but I’ve always fallen back on how I felt and what my rhythm was like on that day. Lately that velocity hasn’t been there, so I’ve had another crutch to lean on and that has been my game plan and the execution of that.
MLB.com: So you can fall back on the plan.
Lincecum: It’s just knowing that I can execute a pitch and it doesn’t have to be nasty anymore. That alleviates any kind of stress on any given pitch. If I do my pre-game studying, I know that a guy is or isn’t going to swing at a certain pitch or in a certain situation. It’s not 100 percent accurate, but it gives you a gauge that you can trust.
MLB.com: So how long has this taken to evolve?
Lincecum: The mental side started last year and the preparation part of it started this year. As far as preparing is concerned, I just wanted to be on the same page with my catcher, going with what I wanted that day whether it means shaking to a fastball away when he calls a curveball down, or any sort of scenario like that. I’m going with what I know I want so when he finally puts a sign down, I know, click, I’ve got that one. There’s not a whole lot of running over signs or confusion about, “What do you want to do here?” We already know what we want to do and we have an idea.
Lincecum says he hasn’t decided what to do, nor has there been any discussion with the Giants so far.
But he sounds ready for anything. Positive. Upbeat. Prepared.
His closing comments are telling:
MLB.com: How do you sum up this part of your career with the Giants?
Lincecum: I’m happy because I’m healthy and that’s the biggest thing anybody can say, as far as their career goes. Being able to last is the biggest thing and staying in the game is the hardest. I enjoy being able to work, come in and be part of a team like this. It’s been fun. I’ve faltered the last few years here. I think I have a lot of good years in me, as long as I turn it around and start believing in myself again like I should. I’m not going to try throwing 96 anymore. I’m going to try and sit on the edges, not necessarily call myself a nit-picker, but exploit guy’s weaknesses and have them swing at pitches that I want them to. I want to keep getting better.
Is it over at AT&T? Let’s hope not. He sounds like a better Lincecum. Besides, how will the Giants ever sell out TWO Filipino American Heritage Nights….
As we enter into the last quarter of the season, the Giants seem less like defending World Champs and more like lame ducks.
Sort of like Barrack Obama, whom they will meet on Monday in the White House.
Like the Giants, Obama is slipping badly in the polls, but he still has a little more time in his last term, as he tries to cement his legacy with the nascent Affordable Care Act, better middle class economic initiatives, and the push for immigration reform.
The Giants? They’ve got less than 60 games.
Let’s presume, to keep the math simple, the Giants win with Cain pitching tonight (unfortunately, this year that’s a leap of faith, as Cain hasn’t been quite the horse we know. Note: See update. They didn’t win, but it wasn’t Cain’s fault).
Say they beat the Cubs, whose owners have already sold out the team. That would make the Giants 47-55, with 60 games left (162 game season).
If the present sub-.500 Giants team manages to play up to .500 baseball that leaves us at 77-85.
If the Giants manage to finish strong, say .700 baseball (a real leap), then we’ve got a shot at a wild card with 89 wins.
.700 baseball? Not a total fantasy. But the way the Giants are these days, only a slightly plausible reality.
If the team gets real healthy, stays motivated, and maybe the entire NL West collapses (say the Dodgers get distracted/hurt or somehow Puig goes back to Cuba because he misses Communism, or something), then the Giants have a real shot.
But it will be up to the team to heal, get psyched and stay with it to the end.
As they say at the track, “pace makes the race.” In baseball, a pennant race has a lot of the same characteristics, with parts of the season where teams can stink , and then cycle high and end up as champs. (Just look at how the Giants Dodgers have reversed fates).
The Giants started out stronger than we thought. But that was negated by a mid-season collapse that started with that horrible road trip on May 14 to Toronto. The funk lasted until the All-Star break.
If they can finish strong, they can pull one of those comebacks that’s not so uncommon in sports, and that makes a season special.
The Giants can still do that this last quarter. They don’t even need to make a big trade. Another small Scutaro-type trade would be nice. (Today, they got another Guillermo (Moscoso), making them a two Guillermo team).
But really, they don’t have to do a thing. Just heal, and play errorless fundamental baseball.
They’re defending champs. With a track record. If they can get healthy and catch some breaks, they have the talent to win on heart and guts alone.
They’ve got 60 games to prove it can happen.
(Note: I was optimistic when I first wrote that. Now with 58 games left, Anthony Weiner may have a better chance at staying in his race than the Giants have in staying alive in the NL West).
UPDATED 7/26 10:38PM GIANTS’ PLAYING IDENTITY BALL
This is another one of what I call “identity” games. The games that put a stamp on what kind of team you really are.
There are good ones, like the one where Pagan hit his inside-the-park-home run. The kind of game you have to keep in the back of your head as a reminder when things go bad.
Or you’ve frayed the film in your head. And you just need to play another game, just like that one again.
So the Giants really needed game 1 in this series against the Cubs, especially after the Reds visit, to show everyone, especially themselves, that they still have it as defending champs.
When you go into the 9th against the Cubs with your closer and a 2-1 lead, you expect to walk away a winner.
But the Giants found a way to lose.
First, Romo gives up a hit and a walk, then a force out puts runners on first and third.
But it was Brandon Belt’s boot of an Anthony Rizzo grounder that was the big blow. Self-inflicted.
The ball was hit right at Belt and he booted it. It went through his legs.
Two runs score, and the Giants go from 1 strike away from a 2-1 victory, to down 3-2 in the 9th.
Shades of the Buckner Red Sox error in game 6 of the World Series Oct. 25, 1986.
But that was a World Series. This was just game 102 of the regular season.
Still, it was symbolic.
A win would have been a tremendous mental lift for a team whose identity is in question. What kind of defending champions are they? Do they have it in them to be great? Where all the past three seasons just coincidence? Can they win with these guys?
Matt Cain turned a shaky start into a good performance, good enough for a win. But once again, the hitters couldn’t muster more than 4 hits going into the last inning. And then, after the error, couldn’t score to win, let alone extend the game.
He’s been through low-run support before. But this was all that, plus a defensive failure.
It’s tough because Belt is a great fielder, normally.
But maybe we must accept that this will not be the kind of normal year we’ve come to expect at AT&T.
With sixty-games to go, it seems a lot to wish for even .500 baseball at this point.
But baseball, with or without PEDs, has its own way to justice and redemption. Times like these set up memorable comebacks like last year’s post-season.
Do these Giants still have it in them?
UPDATED: Saturday, 7-27-13 9:11 PM
Yet another heartbreaking loss, this one 1-0 came after two bases loaded opportunities, one with no outs, the other with one outs.
And one with the big bats, Posey, Panda, Pence coming up.
But instead of a bushel of runs, the Giants came up empty.
To add to the frustration, the villain tonight was a former local hero, Nate Schierholtz whose HR off a 3-2 Sergio Romo pitch was the games only run.
Win or lose, baseball is good entertainment. But you don’t want every night to be “Death of a Salesman.”
Manager Bruce Bochy lost to the long ball tonight and admitted his team isn’t a power hitting team and can’t win that way.
But after this kind of loss, the challenge is to not get mired in a mental funk.
“You try to keep them going. stay positive,” said Bochy after the game to the media. “We’re being tested. Why? I don’t know, but we’re being tested. And hopefully when you get tested you get stronger. That’s why these two games are disappointing because the pitching’s been there. We did meet today, we talked. (The team) is coming out with a lot of energy, but right now we’ve got some guys who aren’t swinging the bats that well to be honest. We’re getting shut down. There’s a lot of baseball left. And there’s a lot of pride involved. And the only thing we can do is come out and just give it our all tomorrow.”
A question came about fielding.
“If you lose games and you beat yourselves, that bothers me. That’s not who we are. It’s a little bit of who we have become. We’ve made too many errors. That shouldn’t happen. It’s not acceptable.”
Bochy said the team was going to pass on batting practice before Sunday’s game and do more infield practice. But he said hitting is still an issue.
“It’s going to take someone to come through, and that seems to loosen some guys up,” said Bochy. “But right now, we’re in a tough rut, and we know it.”
UPDATED: 7/28/13 SEASON SWEPT AWAY? LINCECUM TALKS ABOUT TOUGH LOSS AFTER STRIKING OUT 10 CUBS, BUT GIVING UP 2 CUB HOMERS
Tim Lincecum seemingly did it all.
He hit his spots. He said the ball felt good coming off his hand. He struck out ten Cubs. He even hit the ball well as a batter, with two hits of his own.
Lincecum just didn’t win.
Or maybe he couldn’t win.
Not in the state the Giants seem to be mired in these days.
What else is it that we’re talking about? The team’s in a “state,” not like California, more like Idaho, a bad baseball state (no MLB?). Or, so as not to offend Idahoans, the team’s just in a bad baseball way, one that stuns even a veteran like manager Bruce Bochy .
“I’m very proud of Timmy in how he pitched and played today, it’s a shame we couldn’t give him a win,” said Bochy after the game. “In all my years, I haven’t seen a team go through such a hard time getting runs like we’re having right now. It’s a shame. We’ve had great pitching.”
He could have said the same for every Giants starter (Cain and Bumgarner) this Cubs series.
Sunday was no different. Once again, the Giants failed in typical fashion of late.
In another bases loaded situation with no out, the team couldn’t score more than one run. You could hear the heartbreak in the stands when Buster Posey hit a grounder to Cub third baseman Wellington Castillo who stepped on third and threw home for a double play in the 5th inning.
But the sighs turned into a big roar when Giant’s third-baseman Pablo Sandoval came up next and promptly doubled to left to get one run home.
The Sandoval RBI got back the run Lincecum gave up to opposing pitcher Travis Wood, who hit a solo shot to left in the top of the 5th.
But then in the 7th, Lincecum, well over 100 pitches but stil looking like he could finish the inning (later he said he wasn’t tired), gave up another solo homer, this time with two-out to Castillo on a fastball down the middle.
After the game, Lincecum said even though Wood’s homer was better hit, Castillo’s was tougher because it broke the tie the Giants had struggled mightily to get.
It also put the Cubs ahead, for what ultimately was good enough to win.
Lincecum deserved a much better fate as he pitched 7 innings, gave up just 4 hits, two runs (the two homers), walked just two and struck out 10.
He was getting the Cubs to swing and miss with his off-speed pitches. Unfortunately, the Giants offense was doing its share of swinging and missing.
Brandon Belt had another horrible day in this Cub series, striking out four times in the game.
But the Cubs sure didn’t miss when Lincecum made the two mistakes.
Lincecum was asked about the bad way the team was in.
“We’ve been there before–we always talk about believing that we can get out of it,” said Lincecum in the clubhouse. “Just takes a couple of things going right to spring board us into something positive. Right now, we’re kind of avoiding those. If we can just hit something right, catch strides somewhere, maybe win a few games in a row, maybe do better in a series, that will give us more confidence.”
Lincecum was asked about the White House visit tomorrow and said no one was really talking about that.
Later when I talked to him without the cameras, Lincecum told me he’d met the president before. When I asked him if going to the White House as defending champs might create a motivating spark, he indicated that the motivation to act and play like champions should be coming from something more than a trip to the White House.
Lincecum was still fairly tight lipped, as the whole club house had somewhat of a funereal atmosphere. People weren’t walking through the clubhouse. They were reverently “eggshelling” like someone, something had died.
I got Lincecum to open up a bit for just a second when I talked about non-baseball things. (He’s mentioned in the new book, “Little Manila is in the Heart.”)
But you could tell when it came to baseball, the stone-faced quiet was really indicative of an intensely prideful, yet disappointed competitor, not willing to give up quite yet.
From where he was at the start of the season, Lincecum has worked hard to not just recapture some of his championship form, but pitch his first career no-hitter.
He was plenty good to win on Sunday, if only the rest of his team weren’t caught in a strange crippling funk.
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