This is my Wednesday column on Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter. WARNING: This is a baseball column. Feel free to skip this.
SAN FRANCISCO – Tim Lincecum’s curveball dropped 18 inches. Will Venable drove the ball into the dirt a foot past home plate. The ball bounced five times – it took forever getting to second base. Joe Panik didn’t panic. He took a knee, caught the grounder and flipped it to the first baseman, Buster Posey. No hitter, the second of Lincecum’s career. The Giants lined up in the infield and one by one they took turns hugging him.
No one makes pitching look more difficult than Lincecum. It’s his delivery. He turns his back on the hitter, raises his leg and jumps forward before he releases the ball. After all of that, he struggles throwing strikes. Sometimes he will miss the catcher’s target by a few feet.
Not Wednesday. He threw 73 strikes and just 40 balls during the Giants’ 4-0 win against the Padres. When he missed the strike zone, he missed by an inch or two. He was in the zone – that was obvious even in the first inning when he struck out the first two batters he faced.
“I’m not just saying this,” Bruce Bochy said in the Giants’ interview room after the game. “Early in the game I said he’s got a chance to throw a no-hitter here, the way he was locked in and had everything going for him.”
It was the delivery. It seemed natural Wednesday afternoon, all of those moving parts perfectly moving together.
“Sometimes he tries to work a little too hard out there,” Bochy said. “That’s what I liked about today. It looked like he was putting very, very little effort into his delivery.”
It took Lincecum about three minutes to get three outs every half inning. Fans in the stadium didn’t seem to realize what was happening until Lincecum finished the sixth inning of his no-hitter. A few fans stood and cheered while other fans looked at them and seemed to wonder why they were standing and cheering.
When Lincecum walked back out to the mound for the top of the seventh, the crowd erupted. Lincecum picked up the ball and stepped on the rubber. As he warmed up, he rocked back and lifted his hands all the way over his head, like pitchers used to do a hundred years ago. Then he spun curveballs that seemed to travel in slow motion. They soared 10 feet into the air before falling back to earth. He was messing around. Messing around in the middle of a no-hitter.
“It’s almost like he’s immune to the big moment,” said Hunter Pence in the clubhouse after the game. Pence has played during both of Lincecum’s no-hitters, so he would know. “He’s free. When it’s happening, he doesn’t make it a bigger deal than it is. He makes it lesser of a deal, as big as it is. If that makes sense.”
Some people have thought Lincecum is declining as a pitcher. There is good reason to think that. After Wednesday’s win, he has a winning record, 6-5. And his earned run average, which had been over 5.00, is now down to 4.42. This is Lincecum’s second no-hitter in two seasons. Is The Freak back?
The Giants brought Lincecum to the interview room with catcher Hector Sanchez. A reporter asked Lincecum if he was aware during the game that he was throwing a no-hitter.
“Uh,” Lincecum said, and then paused for five seconds before he said, “Yeah, I was aware of it.” He was distracted. Not exuberant. He wasn’t there. He had a dazed, faraway look. He was still in the zone.
When reporters asked Lincecum questions, he kept forgetting to talk into the microphone. So, Sanchez would grab it and move it right in front of Lincecum’s mouth. Here, Timmy, talk into this. Sanchez had to do this two or three times. It was like a Marx Brothers gag.
One reporter asked Lincecum how he was going to celebrate his second no-hitter. “I’m going to go to my house, maybe drink a little bit. Can I say that?” Lincecum laughed and then he sang out, “I’m gonna paaaar-ty!”
Lincecum was in party-mode even before the game. He was wearing bright neon orange shorts and camouflage tights under the shorts. He bounced around the clubhouse and talked to anyone who would listen.
His teammates looked grim. Some of them were sitting and watching Mike Krukow explain on television why the Giants have struggled recently, losing 11 of their past 14 before Lincecum’s no-hitter. Javier Lopez, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Hudson and Madison Bumgarner sat silently and stared at Krukow’s face on the flat-screen.
When Krukow was done delivering the bad news, a woman came on the screen and reminded viewers that the Giants’ 9 1/2-game division lead over the Dodgers had “dwindled down to just three games.”
Lopez muted the television and rolled his eyes. Then he un-muted it. Muting the television is not the way to mute the critics. Throwing a no-hitter works much better.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.