On May 28th, Tim Lincecum pitched five no-hit innings against the Chicago Cubs, earning the victory in an eventual Giants win. Why was he only allowed to go five innings, you might ask, with a shot at a feat that only comes about once in a blue moon? Well, it’s because it was perhaps the ugliest five no-hit innings you’ll ever see, with four walks, a hit-by-pitch, lots of deep counts, and 96 pitches all told. Bruce Bochy was less concerned about Lincecum’s bid for history at that point than he was about his own long term health deteriorating after having to watch that display.
That start basically sums up, in a nutshell, what Tim Lincecum has become in the past couple of years. The high-strikeout ace of yore seemingly died the second the curtain fell on the 2011 season. What we have now is a pure, inefficient mess. He’s still kinda difficult to hit, as evidenced by the 8.6 hits per nine innings in 2012-13. However, as we all know, his walks and home runs have gone through the roof and most of his starts these days degenerate quickly into pitch count hell. The quick inning became a foreign concept to Lincecum some time around 2012.
In fifteen starts before yesterday’s game, Lincecum had averaged just 5.5 innings thrown, mostly because he was racking up high pitch counts after one or two innings, even in his good starts. He’s frustrating, sometimes just flat out unwatchable, and there are times when I ponder (as I did here) just why in the hell the Giants felt they needed to hand him another $35 million to come back.
Then he goes and pitches a beauty of a no-hitter, one measly walk from a perfect game, and I start to ponder why I even bother projecting rage onto a keyboard on a barely-read blog anymore. Lincecum’s work on the mound in Wednesday’s game against San Diego was pure artistry, a performance on the scale of Olivier or Oldman, only without the anti-Semitic apologia. As opposed to his 148-pitch slog of a no-no against the Padres last year, Lincecum needed just 113 pitches to get it done this time, allowing nary a baserunner after the second inning. He was a dominant force, pure and simple.
Amazingly, Lincecum is only the second pitcher ever to throw two no-hitters against the same team. Many pitchers have thrown multiple no-nos. Hell, Nolan Ryan did it seven times, but never twice against one opponent. I guess on a large scale that fact is merely a barely-relevant historical curio, but on a more micro level, it’s kinda cool for a pitcher to know that he can call one franchise his bitch.
Naturally, no-hitters do things to fans to make them think and do irrational things, like a meteor from space that crashes and turns people into brain-eating zombies. It gives fans the (nonsensical) belief that one brilliant start means that the pitcher has turned over a new leaf. After Phil Humber threw his perfecto a couple of years ago, you would have thought from the fan response that he was the next Don Drysdale. Phil Humber! No hitters are amazingly fun, but not really indicative of long term success. Lots of great pitchers never threw one. Conversely, lots of crappy pitchers have thrown one. Bobo Holloman threw one, for God’s sake, and in his first major league start! Who is Bobo Holloman? Hell if I know!
I’ve seen some Giants fans suggest (to prominent national baseball writers, no less) that this second no-hitter should cement Lincecum’s entry to Cooperstown. Um, no. I love Timmy as much as anybody, but let’s get real, here. Two no-hitters don’t wash away two-and-a-half years of crappy pitching. Not to mention the obvious wrinkle that he was facing an unfathomably miserable Padre offense (albeit one that had somehow scored 13 runs in the previous two games against the Giants). That in no way devalues Lincecum’s achievement (no-hitters are hard against any lineup just going by probability), but still…he wasn’t exactly facing Murderer’s Row.
What’s my point here? I guess it’s that Tim Lincecum pisses me off…but in a good way. Franchise icons are great, and essential, and basically a major reason we as fans hold long-standing allegiances with our baseball teams. When franchise icons do historically amazing things, like throw two no-hitters in the span of a year, it sends a fan base into a joyous frenzy, and it very well should.
If Yusmeiro Petit had completed his perfect game last year, it would have obviously been an unforgettable moment in Giants history, but that was Yusmeiro Petit, random Quad-A starter in there because Barry Zito sucks. It wouldn’t have been quite on the same scale. Tim Lincecum pitching two no-hitters in two years is just more important because he’s our guy. He’s the two-time Cy Young winner who put the Giants back on the map on the national stage and he was perhaps the instrumental player who paved the way to the team’s resurgence and eventual championships in the post-Bonds era.
No matter what happens from here on out, we’ll never forget yesterday’s no-hitter, or last year’s no-no, because it was just another moment where Lincecum cemented his status as a Giants legend. Think something like the generation before watching Juan Marichal or Willie Mays accomplish amazing feat after amazing feat to make their mark in Giants lore. Every time Timmy pulls one of these performances out of his hat, it’s the next step towards our kids or grandkids posing next to a statue of Lincecum somewhere in China Basin.
And yet he pisses me off. He pisses me off because we know this isn’t going to last. I don’t need to list off the declining numbers or go to Fangraphs and copy and paste his sinking velocity charts. Lincecum has been teasing us like this since the beginning of 2012. If it isn’t a no-hitter, it’s a lights-out bullpen performance in the playoffs, or an 11-strikeout performance against the Braves. Every time we get our hopes up, and start to believe that he’s going to morph back into Tim Lincecum: Ace (or, hell, even Tim Lincecum: League-Average Starter), he goes out in his next start and gives up seven runs in three innings and suddenly that mustache changes back from “sorta creepy-yet-adorable” to “oh god I want to light that wispy piece of shit on fire” again. I don’t think I even need to mention that his road ERA this year is made of nightmares.
So in the end, an open letter to Tim Lincecum. I love you, man. We all love you. That no-hitter was an amazing moment, probably the highlight of my week and that of many others, and it was exactly what the Giants needed in this rough stretch of games. But you’re seriously turning me into the guinea pig of a self-administered trial to determine if antacids can turn into an addictive substance, and this seriously needs to stop.
Naivete runs high when no-hitters are thrown. Fans start thinking crazy things, and when that happens, it leads to disappointment and incoherent KNBR callers demanding AAA scrubs be traded for Mike Trout. Remember the wisdom of the aforementioned flesh-eating zombie analogy (or was it brain-eating?). Let’s bask in the moment, savor the no-hitter over the next five days, but keep our wits and our common sense about us, and not develop the baseball equivalent of the taste for medulla oblongata. Take Lincecum’s no-no for what it is: an important part of Lincecum’s status as a Giants immortal, but not a foreshadowing of amazing things to come.