Thursday, June 26, 2014

Well, well

Timely is the word for Tim Lincecum's second no-hitter, a jewel of a performance last night at AT&T Park. Timely in the sense of the Giants desperately needing a brake job on this contumaceous downhill slide of theirs; the thought of actually being swept, at home, by the Padres, was simply too much to bear. Timely in that this near-perfect game arrived one day after Bruce Bochy sat down with his starting pitchers and told them the team needed, and expected, more from them than the offal they've been serving up lately. And timely in the sense that it reminds us again what an amazing, if unpredictable, talent Lincecum is. Truly, we can't think of a single pitcher, now or ever, who compares to him.

The comparisons being made today are historic-- to Christy Mathewson, the only other Giant to throw two no-hitters; to Addie Joss, the only other pitcher ever to no-hit the same team twice.  Both those guys are Hall of Famers, of course; and to us, any event that conjures up Mathewson's name automatically rates as a worthy one indeed. And there's also teammate Matt Cain, he of the perfect game  just two years ago. Lincecum himself missed perfection by one pitch; a  ball-four fastball to Chase Headley in the second inning that looked awfully like strike three to us.  

If the July 2013 no-hitter in San Diego was vintage Lincecum-- 148 pitches, four walks, thirteen strikeouts-- yesterday's gem showcased Lincecum 2.0. He fanned six while allowing the one walk and kept his pitch count at 113, including a six-pitch third and a seven-pitch seventh, probably the key inning of the game. It was still just 2-0 then, and even a hint of trouble might have shortened his night right there and then. Instead it was groundout, soft liner, and one-pitch one-hopper to short, and see you later. In the bottom of the frame, Buster Posey's double scored two-- including Lincecum, who'd led off the frame with one of his two hits-- and that was that. The only hard-hit ball over the  Padres' final two frames was Alexi Amarista's long fly ball to deep center-- or, as we call it, "where they go to die."

Lincecum, who resembled Elvis Costello when first he came up, now looks uncannily like Dan Hicks with that pencil-thin mustache, and thirty years have given him something of a card-sharp wise-guy demeanor. As several have posted this morning, Timmy's career can now be summed up in twos: two Cy Youngs, two no-hitters, two rings. What this all means going forward we can't begin to tell. The Cooperstown talent is obviously still there, but Hall-of-Fame careers are built on longevity and statistics. Lincecum, God willing, will win his hundredth game this season; when he gets to 200 the historical perspective may be a lot clearer.

Angel Pagan hit the 15-day DL retroactive to June 15 yesterday; that would seem to rule him out until the Cardinals, likely carrying a boulder-sized chip on their shoulders, come to town for the July 4 weekend. He doesn't have the stats of a prototypical leadoff man, but Pagan's presence in the lineup simply can't be denied. He elevates this team.... Memo to Bruce Bochy: try somebody else in the top spot, please... The Cincinnati Reds hit town playing well but trying to stay relevant in the Central, where Milwaukee is running away with it at the moment... Speaking of the Brewers, the Giants' recent dizzying descent from baseball's best record to look-out-below status also happened to Milwaukee earlier this year, and to Detroit in the AL Central. Both dropped out of the lead briefly, have since recovered nicely, and once again hold the top spot in their divisions. So, too, will our Giants, we believe.

Nothing Compares 2 U-- Except, Perhaps, Bob Gibson
OK, we did it anyway. That wonderful site,, compiles Similarity Scores for all players, based on the original concept and model of Bill James'. The name that always came to mind for us when we thought of Lincecum comparables was Koufax-- not for their career trajectories, but for their unorthodox motions and the many "experts" who doubted them early in their careers. But by the numbers, Tim Lincecum's most-comparable match prior to this season is Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. Gibby was 91-69 through his first seven years (Timmy stands at 95-75 today); most of their stats track almost evenly except Lincecum has a big lead in strikeouts. Gibson, like Lincecum, by that time had already been the pitching star of a World Series; he won two games in '64 as did Timmy in 2010. But Bob Gibson is in the Hall of Fame because of what he did after age 30: four more twenty-win seasons, one 19-win campaign, five more World Series wins, another ring, another Cy Young.  A tall order for anybody, even Tim Lincecum. But no one here will say he can't do it.

A-Pitchin' and A-Hittin'
Lincecum punctuated his historic night by going two-for-three plus a walk, with two runs scored, and if you don't think that's a big deal for him, well, you don't know major-league pitchers. Without question, these guys cherish those days when they come up big with the bat. Perhaps the ultimo combo is Rick Wise, then with Philadelphia, in 1971. Almost 43 years ago to the day (June 23) Wise likewise pitched a one-walk no-hitter-- against the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati, no less-- and also belted two home runs, driving in three, and winning by an identical 4-0 score. (Maybe that's why the Cardinals traded Steve Carlton to get him after that season-- they saw him as a double-threat.) We have no doubt that when Rick Wise is asked about his greatest day in baseball, he will instantly cite that game. Decades after the fact, when asked about his own personal career highlight, former Yankee pitcher Mel Stottlemyre right away recalled a September 1964 game against the Washington Senators at old D.C. Stadium: "I was a rookie, and we were about to win the pennant, and I pitched a two-hit shutout that day," he said. "But what I remember most is going five-for-five at the plate!" We remember it too-- that was our first major-league ballgame.