Commentary

Tim Lincecum gets the job done

Giants ace just good enough to overcome Cliff Lee, Rangers in Game 1

Originally Published: October 27, 2010
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum isn't accustomed to playing second fiddle -- or any other instrument in the band. But this is how things work when you're the gaunt, stone-faced, long-haired afterthought in the World Series Game 1 pitching matchup, and the other guy is Sandy Koufax revisited.

Most of the pre-Series attention focused on the Texas Rangers' Cliff Lee, and Lincecum had to settle for the publicity scraps. Not that he really cared. His teammates have faith that he's going to give them a chance every time out, and all those San Francisco Giants fans who show up in Tim Lincecum wigs and "Let Timmy Smoke'' T-shirts embrace him as the personification of chutzpah for a little guy. In the end, that's all that really matters.

Lincecum's first World Series outing was not a thing of beauty, to put it mildly. He experienced a self-described "brain fart'' on a botched first-inning rundown, absorbed two comebackers off the legs, and allowed four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. He wasn't a terminator, a dominator, "The Freak'' or anything close to the guy who won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009.

But he was better than Lee. On some nights, a strong survival instinct is the best measure of a pitcher's mettle.

As the San Francisco players stood at their lockers and assessed the Giants' 11-7 Series-opening victory over Texas, they struggled to explain how a formerly punchless offense could bust out like this against the previously invincible Lee. They also expressed their admiration for Lincecum, who showed up without his Grade A repertoire and somehow found a way to get the job done.

If you had a dollar for every Giant who praised Lincecum for how much he "battled,'' you might have enough coin to afford a Game 2 box seat, even at scalper's prices.

"That's what your ace does,'' Giants closer Brian Wilson said. "On nights when he doesn't have his best stuff, he finds a way to win. It says a lot about his character to be able to maintain his composure after a rough first couple of innings. You're not going to have a dominant performance every time out. It just can't happen. But for you to trust in your hitters and say, 'I'm not going to let this get to me,' that says a lot about a guy. That's our ace.''

All the math weighed against Lincecum in this one. He finished with three strikeouts Wednesday -- only the fourth time in 37 starts this season that he's whiffed fewer than four batters in a game. And he allowed the opposition to score at least one run in each of the first two innings for the first time since June 27 against Boston.

[+] EnlargeTim Lincecum
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTim Lincecum punched out only three batters in 5 2/3 innings.

The 5 2/3 innings pitched were also quite un-Lincecum-like. Lincecum failed to last six innings in only nine of his 33 regular-season starts, and the Giants went 1-8 and he posted a record of 0-7 in those games.

Lincecum bore little or no resemblance to the guy who began the postseason with 14 strikeouts in a National League Division Series win over Atlanta. But the one thing he didn't lack was composure.

"You try to approach every single one of these games as if it's a regular game,'' Lincecum said. "You don't need the added pressure. You just go out there and try to keep yourself collected. You ask yourself, 'Am I going to have time to settle down? Is our team going to score?' When you get here, you stop worrying about the statistics and you start worrying about the next inning and throwing up the zero and doing whatever you can do to help the team win.''

Lincecum's outlook wasn't so serene at the outset, when things were more chaotic than a weekend at Charlie Sheen's place.

Where the Rangers are concerned, certain transgressions are bound to get you in trouble. It's clear, for example, that leadoff man Elvis Andrus is Texas' resident energizer, and that he's guaranteed to lift the spirits of his teammates and up the ante when he gets on base.

On the third pitch of the game, Andrus lined a single to left field for a base hit. Bad omen No. 1. Then Lincecum compounded his problems by walking Michael Young, and when Vlad Guerrero singled off Lincecum's shin, Texas had a 1-0 lead.

Things could have been worse -- or better, depending on your perspective. Lincecum fielded a Nelson Cruz comebacker and trapped Young in a rundown for what should have been the second out, but he lost track of the situation and allowed Young to scamper back to third to load the bases.

That was Lincecum's "brain fart'' for the evening. But he induced Ian Kinsler to hit into a double-play grounder to end the inning, and it gave him a chance to collect himself.

The next inning was dicey, too. A Bengie Molina single, Lee double and Andrus sacrifice fly gave Texas a 2-0 lead. But that's when Lincecum went into lockdown mode, retiring nine of 10 Texas hitters over the next three innings to buy the San Francisco lineup some time to get to Lee.

At age 26, Tim Lincecum doesn't quite match the cheese-throwing reputation he carved out earlier in his career. Two years ago, when he went 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA and won his first Cy Young award, he threw his fastball about 66 percent of the time and it checked in at an average of 94 mph on the radar gun. This year, he threw the fastball at an average of 91.3 mph and used it only 55 percent of the time.

There's not a lot of times when pitchers don't have their best stuff and still keep you in the game, but that's what he did. Timmy's been a bulldog and a warrior for us all year.

-- Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez

Against the Rangers, Lincecum was even less reliant on the hard stuff. According to the Pitch F/X data, Lincecum threw 43 two- and four-seam fastballs against Texas in Game 1, and 50 sliders, changeups and curveballs. That's not a bad strategy against the Rangers, who rank among the best fastball-hitting teams in the majors.

Lincecum's other major attribute Wednesday, besides resourcefulness, was agility. The Rangers finally got to him in the sixth, on a Molina double, a Mitch Moreland smash off the back of his leg, and a run-scoring single by David Murphy. That mini-outburst pulled Texas within 8-4 and drove Lincecum from the game. But he'd outlasted Lee, and a World Series victory was pretty much in the bag.

Later in the evening, on the interview room podium, Lincecum revealed that he'd applied a little ice and a compression sleeve to the back of his leg, and that he was fine physically. He won't be appearing on "Dancing With the Stars'' anytime soon, but the Giants can count on him to be back out there in Game 5.

That's always a welcome development for his San Francisco teammates, who know he'll give them his best effort regardless of the circumstances.

"There's not a lot of times when pitchers don't have their best stuff and still keep you in the game, but that's what he did,'' said Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez, the hitting star of the evening. "Timmy's been a bulldog and a warrior for us all year.''

There's no point in stopping now.

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer