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.”
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.
In your wildest dreams, maybe Tim Lincecum would come up with a 2nd no-hitter, a back-to-back that would make history. No one has done it in 75 years, not since Johnny Vander Meer did it for the Cincinnati Reds.
It certainly didn’t happen tonight for Lincecum and the Giants.
Baseball records are made to be broken, but not on this night when Lincecum simply just didn’t have it from the first pitch.
But Bronson Arroyo did.
The Reds starter pitched a 7-hit complete game shutout, powered by a 11-run, 17-hit attack and buttressed by some good defense, including a circus catch by the substitute center fielder Derrick Robinson in the 9th. The Giants’ Jeff Francoeur had hit a long fly to center that Robinson caught over the wall with his glove. As his gloved hand came back from over the wall, the ball popped loose, but Robinson ultimately managed to keep it from hitting the ground to record the final out.
A fitting end for a strange bombast of a game won by the Reds, 11-0.
That’s right 11-0. The sixth time this year, the Giants have lost by 10 or more, but never by a shutout like this. (They’ve been shutout 7 times this season).
Lincecum was pulled after 3 and 2/3rds innings, after giving up 9 hits and 8 runs, all earned, including 3 home runs.
Normally this season, you could see flashes of his brilliance amid one bad inning. In this game, every inning he pitched there was trouble.
The no-hitter had been a nice diversion in a season where Lincecum has lost ten of his last 12 decisions. Pitching on nine days rest, Lincecum said after the game, he felt fine going into this one.
It just seems like we’ve returned to the troubled Lincecum, as the afterglow of the no-no has now officially ended.
Tim Lincecum was all smiles before the game tonight (7/20). Last night he was given a standing ovation from the dugout by the fans who still wear his #55 and live and die with every pitch he throws.
Lincecum is scheduled to start Monday night, and has said he’s ready to go after the 148- pitch no-hitter he threw on 7/13 against the Padres.
In the meantime, the Giants need a good home-stand to put them back on track for a post-season run. They started a new streak with a win against the Diamondbacks on Friday. But they are still 5.5 games behind Arizona and in fourth place in the NL West.
Lincecum was the focus of trade rumor talks well before the no-hit performance. But that may have only increased his value, if the Giants consider themselves “sellers.” The Giants’ front-office was quick this week to say they expect Lincecum to remain a Giant until the end of the season.
But you never know what might get dangled in front of the decision makers.
Judging from Lincecum’s pre-game demeanor tonight, the Asian American ace is staying loose and not letting any speculation spoil his post-no-hitter mood.
On his 7th day of service in the major leagues, Kensuke Tanaka pinch-hit in the 8th, but grounded into a fielder’s choice.
Sergio Romo came out in 9th and gave up a run, but got former teammate Cody Ross to strike out and end the game.
With 4-3 victory, Giants take first two from NL West leading Diamondbacks, and will try to sweep the series on Sunday when the Giants’ real ace, Madison Bumgarner goes to the mound.
UPDATE: 7/21/13 9:30PM
The Giants couldn’t complete the sweep against the Diamondbacks, and lost the third game in the series, 3-1, despite a great performance from their de facto ace, Madison Bumgarner.
Coincidentally, it was poor outfield play by left fielder Kensuke Tanaka at the start of the game that resulted in the first DB run, and that held up for most of the game.
Tanaka’s eighth day of service turned out to be not so great. The first-inning play was just the first of two that exposed him for being a converted infielder playing the outfield. Another play, a ball in which Tanaka seemed to get a late jump, turned into a double, but did not end up costing a run. A third play, a base-running gaffe, saw Tanaka get thrown out at second after trying to advance on a misthrow to first. It stifled a last inning rally that seemed to be developing for the Giants.
Later, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy told the media Tanaka’s first inning episode was a matter of poor defensive positioning and not his inability to play outfield. But I doubt if anyone in the front-office is considering Tanaka the solution to their left field needs.
The loss did keep the Dodgers from taking over first place from Arizona. LA beat the Nationals and were poised to take over if the Giants won. But that didn’t happen. LA is a half-game behind the Diamondbacks. The Giants remain in 4th, 5.5 games off the lead.
Still, the vibe is positive as Tim Lincecum takes the mound Monday night against the Cincinnati Reds. It’s the first start since Lincecum’s 148-pitch No-Hitter week from Saturday in San Diego.
Though a longshot, there’s always the possibility of a back-to-back no-hitter. Johnny Vander Meer did it 75 years ago on June 11 and then June 15. It’s the only time it has ever been done. And Vander Meer’s team? The Cincinnati Reds.
Are the stars aligned this week? Lincecum has looked good in his two starts prior to the no-hitter. In fact, he lost to the Reds when Homer Bailey no-hit the Giants on July 2nd.
I’m not worried about the 148-pitch count. Lincecum is well rested, and seems to have his confidence back in spades.
B2B no-hitters requires a lot of luck, especially with catching teams at the right time. The Reds are 5-5 the last ten games and just lost a close one at home to the Pirates Sunday. And now they’re back Monday night? The tired, jet-lagged, time-shifted visitors may need some time to get used to the road, which means Lincecum is likely to have success keeping hitters off-balance with his fastball and change-up. Lincecum got the Padres to whiff in his no-hitter. And that should continue with the Reds.
There are a lot of positives going for Lincecum on Monday that say this is as good a time as there’s ever been for a back-to-back.
Besides, I figure there’s more than a few of his Filipino fans saying multiple rosaries hoping for something special on Monday night.
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