Tim Lincecum hasn’t been a truly dominant pitcher since the 2008 and 2009 seasons when he won back-to-back Cy Young Awards and led MLB with 526 K’s. The way the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Lincecum with his unorthodox motion and figure-four velocity mowed down hitters earned him the moniker, “The Freak.” Pedro Martinez is the only other pitcher as diminutive in size as Lincecum, who’s also larger than life on the mound. But Lincecum’s run at Cooperstown was cut short by injuries, lost velocity, lost confidence and at times he’s even been passed over in the rotation or relegated to the bullpen as he was during San Francisco’s 2012 WS title run.
In fact, there have been times over the past five years that MLB fans wondered why he was still pitching in the Giants rotation. A performance like Wednesday’s no-hitter – the second of his career - against the offensively inept San Diego Padres , emphatically answers all doubters. It was another pitching gem in a year that has seen pitchers move back to the top of the MLB food chain and re-establish the upper-hand in their generational tug-of-war with big boppers and awesome sluggers.
Lincecum also went 2-for-3 at the plate with two singles and three runs scored, while walking one batter and whiffing six. The unexpected outing makes him the 29 th pitcher in MLB history to toss more than one no-hitter.
"I've always been that guy who will kind of go for the strikeout," Lincecum said on The MLB Network. "I think my first no-hitter I had 13, so I think I was going for those a little bit more often."
"Today I tried to be a little bit more efficient and take what they were going to give me. They were giving me a lot of groundballs and a lot of pop flies, so I was just going to try to keep attacking the way that I was," he said.
Lincecum totally shut down the weakest-hitting team in the majors in a 113-pitch outing — 35 fewer than he needed last July 13 against the Padres.
Lincecum retired the final 23 batters after walking Chase Headley in the second inning and utilized his off-speed stuff with the mastery of a 45-year-old Phil Niekro doing yo-yo tricks with the knuckler. This was the third no-hitter in the majors this year. Clayton Kershaw did it exactly a week ago and his Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Josh Beckett did it earlier in the season.
In stature it was a ho-hum no-hitter, similar to Beckett’s, but amazing because of the supposed washed up bum who accomplished it. The performance left a lesser imprint of greatness than Kershaw’s 15-K, shutdown masterpiece . It feels like no-hitters, once rare and coveted MLB accomplishments are losing its luster. I remember growing up as a baseball fan, you might get lucky and hear about one no-hitter for the entire 162-game season. They were edge-of-your-seat moments, where superstition was rampant and the unwritten rule was that no one – including the announcers – mention the no-hitter in fear of jinxing it.
Nolan Ryan has seven of em’. I saw every one of them at some point, and can’t remember falling asleep during the action. While the accomplishment will never be anything to sneeze at, it was once seen as a feat preserved for all-time greats. Now it seems almost any pitcher can toss one. Or two. It’s gone the way of phat asses. Genetics used to determine that, now women of all ethnicities can purchase a trunk of funk and pose Nubian.
Will this second no-hitter jumpstart Lincecum’s return to ace status? Probably not, but regardless of future results, Lincecum’s no-no’s put him in legendary territory. The right-hander with two NL Cy Young Awards became just the second pitcher in major league history to no-hit the same team twice. Hall of Famer Addie Joss did it for Cleveland against the Chicago White Sox with a perfect game in 1908 and a no-hitter in 1910.
Manager Bruce Bochy said it all in the locker room postgame: "In this game we see some special things. It's hard enough to do one. To do two, that puts you in a little different class. “
It’s a far cry from the days when Lincecum led the league in strikeouts-per-nine innings, but it affirms why San Francisco has kept him around. Three months after pitching his first career no-hitter on July 13th, 2013 against this same Padres squad, the sides reached agreement on a new deal that keeps Lincecum with his only major league team through 2015. The contract pays $17 million for this season and $18 million in '15.
That’s huge money for a pitcher who was 33-43 from 2011-2013 and sits just 6-5 today. Its true Lincecum is being compensated for past accolades, but despite his fall from the elite ranks of MLB starting arms, he has the savvy, guts and talent to rise to the occasion in huge moments. Pitchers like that are worth their weight in gold. Lincecum has won two World Series with the San Francisco Giants, who have a baseball machine rolling at Candlestick Park. Bruce Bochy’s boys won the WS in 2010 and 2012, and Lincecum played versatile and integral roles in both titles. He’s 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA in his 12 career playoff games, and he’s 2-0 with a 2.47 ERA in World Series battles.
Lincecum has been able to survive in MLB with a steady Kush habit and the ability to transform as a pitcher. When Lincecum was in his early days, the wild-haired Buddha –blesser threw a wicked 96 mile-per-hour heater. Now his fastball peaks at about 90, but he throws more breaking balls and has learned to locate pitches better.
Lincecum is one of just four pitchers to win multiple Cy Young awards and throw multiple no-hitters, sharing honors golden-arms Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax and Roy “Doc” Halladay.
His no-hitter was the 16th in Giants franchise history. A history that is rich with extraordinary arms from Juan Marichal to the great Christy Mathewson, who is the only other Giants pitcher to throw multiple no-no’s. He did it in 1901 and 1905.
Lincecum’s name isn’t mentioned as one of the best arms in the game anymore. But when you talk about guys with electric stuff who have a knack for the platinum moment every time they cleat-up, “The Freak” is still in the conversation. Justin Verlander, Matt Buehrle and Homer Bailey are the only other active pitchers to throw more than one no-hitter. All of these guys are still considered forces in the game.
Lincecum is like an ex-slugger who’s hitting .220, but he keeps clubbing the occasional ninth-inning walk off. Lincecum is a fascinating case in that he can ball like Bob Gibson, but he can also ball like Boobie Gibson. Either way, he deserves props for keeping his name in the game.
"Just to be in that company allows me a chance to pat myself on the back a little bit," he said.
Padres star Chase Headley thinks Lincecum has found something with his off-speed arsenal.
"He was good. It wasn't a fluke," Headley said. "His split and changeup or whatever you want to call it. If it's not the best in baseball, then it's one of the best pitches in baseball. Even with the diminished velocity, it's still a tremendous pitch. He was able to throw it for strikes when he wanted too."
With the way pitchers are abusing wood wielders and PED-inflated stats are waning, this is as good a season as any for the return of The Freak.