Urban: Lincecum back to meeting Giant expectations

June 24, 2011, 1:13 am
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June 23, 2011


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Mychael Urban

Long after he'd satisfied the swarm of reporters requesting his postgame thoughts on Thursday, after the home clubhouse at AT&T Park was all but empty save a few stragglers, Giants ace Tim Lincecum pulled an all-black, short-sleeved, micro-fiber workout shirt over his head.

Wearing an expression that conveyed equal parts relief and satisfaction, he turned away from his double-wide locker and graciously acknowledged an unexpected visitor.
"It's about time, right?" he said with a wry smile.Unclear was whether he was mimicking the likely reaction of many Giants fans to his merciless mugging of Minnesota, or whether he was simply providing his own reaction.RECAP: Lincecum strikes out 12, Giants take series, 2-1
More than likely, it was both.This is not the first trip down the waterside for Lincecum, whose ugly first three starts of June sounded alarms that echoed those heard last August.It's not his first sprint up the slippery slope aside the slide, either. He got back to the top, to the head of the line, last September -- and with Thursday's seven stifling innings in which the Twins had trouble touching him, he appeared to have again found his way."I didn't really catch him in spring training, so I knew what he threw but didn't really know what it looks like and when he likes to throw it," said Chris Stewart, who gained such knowledge while handling Lincecum's Saturday start in Oakland and appeared to expertly apply it five days later. "Today we were on the same page pretty much all day, but the main thing is Timmy was just really, really good."That might be underselling it. Lincecum was great, as evidenced by the 12 K's hanging on the brick wall down the right-field line after the Freak finished with a flourish, striking out the side in the seventh before handing a 1-0 lead to the bullpen. The Twins surely felt like they'd been plastered to a brick wall themselves.
The problem for Lincecum, though, is that greatness is expected. For him, greatness is par for his career course. Birdies and eagles? It'll take no-hitters, 20-punchout performances, truly transcendent triumphs for him to get credit for those.Maybe "problem" isn't the right word here, come to think of it. If outside expectations are that high, no matter how unrealistic they might be, something has gone so spectacularly well that it's hard to paint it as problematic."Unfair?" Again, hard to slap some spit on that label. Greatness brings great "glue" -- MLBese for big money -- and commensurate fame, and there's nothing unfair about that.Besides, you easily could flip that script and say it's not fair for the Twins when Lincecum, as he so often does, delivers the expected greatness.He delivered against Minnesota by featuring his curveball quite a bit more than usual -- a tweak to his game plan that doubled as a means to the end of correcting a slight mechanical flaw that contributed to the mini-June swoon.While in the midst of his funk, Lincecum has insisted that his issues were all in his head. Yet as he explained in the near-empty clubhouse late Thursday afternoon, recent conversations with his dad, Chris, convinced him that it was as mechanic as it was mental.VIDEO: Tim Lincecum on his father
In layman's terms, the result of those conversations -- as well as the feedback of pitching coach Dave Righetti -- has Lincecum no longer "flying out" with his left shoulder so early that it forces a premature tilt toward first base, giving him better balance (read: command) and leg drive (read: sustainable velocity and stamina).What makes an elite athlete get away from what so clearly works for him in the first place? If anyone had the answer to that, a lot of coaches and trainers would be out of jobs.Exhaustion might be a possible cause, though.Up and down the slide they go, trying to live up to ridiculously lofty standards; merely good performances seen as less than that, great ones seen as merely good.That's got to be taxing at some point, no? Yes.So maybe we've got it all wrong. Maybe Lincecum's refreshingly unguarded comment in the quiet of the clubhouse had nothing to do with his return to Freakiness."It's about time, right?"Could you blame him if he was just talking about a nap?