For the entire first half of the 2012 MLB season, Tim Lincecum has been hearing about how he just isn’t good enough.
He’s been told that his speed has gone down, that his workout regimen is insufficient, that his pitching windup has too many moveable parts to be diagnosed properly after a few bad starts.
That if he screws up one more time, his season as a starter for the San Francisco Giants will be effectively over.
Clearly, this past week’s All-Star break allowed Lincecum to escape the speculation and criticism and he responded in a big way in his first start of the second half, blanking the Houston Astros over eight innings of brilliant work on Saturday night.
Lincecum entered the game with an NL-worst 6.42 ERA (among qualifying pitchers) and 10 losses and the expectation was that he would undergo yet another one of his early-game meltdowns. On this night, that nightmare inning never came.
The Freak’s performance came as a pleasant surprise to the more than 40,000 Giants fans who witnessed his season high in innings pitched (8), strikeouts (11) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (11:1).
After an eighth inning in which he completed his own strikeout against the last batter he faced, flipping a dropped third strike that had dribbled up the first base line to Brandon Belt to retire the side, Lincecum received a standing ovation from a Giants crowd that was as appreciative as it was excited.
As Lincecum’s fate would have it, the crowd’s elation was short-lived. Giants interim closer Santiago Casilla couldn’t hold the 2-0 he had been handed, blowing his fifth save of the season in one of the most bizarre turn of events imaginable.
With the Giants ahead by one and with two outs already recorded in the top of the ninth inning, Casilla got Astros catcher Chris Snyder to chase a curveball in the dirt to earn his third strikeout of the inning.
The ball then bounced off the shin guards of Giants catcher Hector Sanchez, who tracked down the ball and threw wildly to first base, allowing centerfielder Justin Maxwell, who had not stopped running, to score from second base and tie the game.
The miscue handed Lincecum a no-decision on the night, but the Giants were able to overcome.
Sanchez would later redeem himself by driving in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th and Lincecum remained encouraged by his performance following the win.
“I’m going to take the small steps as they come,” Lincecum said. “Even though we won I’m going to go home and reflect on this and think about the things I did well and try to duplicate them in my next start.”
After his ability to respond to the widespread doubt on Saturday, all signs point to a resurgent Lincecum. Sure, his speed might not be what it once was, but “The Freak” appears to once again have confidence in his ability—often times all it takes for a struggling pitcher to turn a disappointing season around.
His ERA now sits at 5.93, which is still not good enough in the eyes of many, but certainly a good enough improvement in one night of baseball.