Lincecum: 'Buster and I did a great job staying on the same page'
Tim Lincecum said he's been studying scouting reports more lately, something Buster Posey has always prioritized. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SAN DIEGO – Peeling off the mask in euphoria, both arms spread wide, that frantic run to the mound … does it ever get old for Buster Posey?
“Oh, it doesn’t get old,” said Posey, after scooping up Tim Lincecum from behind like a forklift after the final out of Saturday’s no-hitter at Petco Park.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Lincecum no-hits Padres]
“I don’t think it ever will. It’s just as fun every time. It’s history. It’s a great accomplishment. You don’t know if you’ll be a part of it again.”
Posey chest-bumped Brian Wilson on more than one occasion. He enveloped Matt Cain in a perfect embrace. He has screamed disbelief to the dugout, grabbed Sergio Romo around the neck and celebrated a whole lot more than anyone could expect in less than four years with a pair of standard-issue major league shinguards.
It’s hard to say that catching Lincecum’s no-hitter was more meaningful than winning a World Series. But the euphoria had to be on a different level. This was the Giants’ former matinee idol and their current one, their two-time Cy Young winner and their reigning NL MVP -- two huge figures in franchise history whose time together has intersected if not intermingled.
The “why isn’t Posey catching Lincecum” story seems to resurface every year. After calling and receiving all 148 pitches, the story has as much legs as the Padres had hits Saturday night.
Posey picking up a surprised Lincecum from behind will be the enduring image from this night. This was two of the Giants’ icons, still in their 20s and yet already stamped forever in franchise lore, meeting in a moment of pure joy.
Even if Lincecum didn’t see Posey coming.
“No I definitely did not,” he said with a laugh. “I felt it, though. Yeah, he got me pretty good in the back, but when I went up the air, my mindset was this game is still going on and this is not the end of the no-hitter. I was on adrenaline and my mind was to keep pitching, I guess.”
It was one pitch after another all night, with Posey on the same page.
Whenever anyone asks me why Posey often hasn't caught Lincecum, I’d mention the stated reasons from Giants manager Bruce Bochy: Lincecum beats up a catcher with all those balls in the dirt, high pitch counts and long innings. The manager wanted to keep his backup paired with the same starter, for continuity’s sake. Etc. Etc.
There’s some truth to all that. But I also think it was easy at times for Lincecum and Posey to find themselves on different pages. Posey was the Dean’s list student who studied the scouting reports, knew hitters’ tendencies and wanted to pitch to their weaknesses. Lincecum was the improvisational jazz artist who figured out what sounded good in the bullpen, then threw the pitches he trusted the most.
For Posey, the battle was between pitcher and hitter. For Lincecum, more oft than not, the battle was between his own ears.
Posey would put down the pitch based on the hitter. Lincecum would want to throw what felt best for him. And when the catcher and the pitcher disagree enough, eventually the pitcher starts to get frustrated, or lose confidence.
The jazz approach worked for Lincecum when he was younger, his fastball was firmer and there was more differential between his fastball and split. He basically invented that pitch in the span of three bullpen sessions, remember, then won two Cy Young Awards as a two-pitch guy.
He was a four-pitch guy Saturday night. I counted 26 swings and misses, with nine on his slider, six on his fastball, six on his changeup and five on his curve.
After the game, asked what has allowed him to turn such a corner over the past handful of starts, Lincecum acknowledged he wasn’t always diligent between his assignments in the past. Why study all night when you’re good enough to ace the exam?
But now he’s spending more time going over scouting reports. He is realizing there is more to succeeding than “picking up the dollar” in his mechanics or executing his pitch.
It’s about throwing the right pitch. That's part of competing, too.
“I’ve been studying my hitters a little bit better,” Lincecum said. “That kind of alleviates any pressure to wonder if this is the pitch that they’re looking for. So I go out there with more of a clear mind and when you’re on the same page as your catcher, he kind of knows what you want to go to. So you’re not constantly wondering `is this what we want.’ You know that’s what you want and you’re just waiting for him to put it down.
Lincecum often talks about finding rhythm. Nothing disrupts that rhythm more than pausing to shake.
"That rhythm, you can’t say enough about it," he said. "It’s just really, really important to a game. You get in that rhythm and that pace with your catcher, you both know what you’re going to throw.”
Posey praised Lincecum for embracing “a concentration and a focus that he’s really committed to.”
It’s a hard thing, to come to the big leagues and catch a pitcher who’s won two Cy Young Awards. It’s your job to be deferential, but not at the expense of calling pitches that you know are wrong.
But even when Posey and Lincecum might have disagreed about how to prepare, or to approach a lineup, there was never anything but good spirits between them. That's why Posey made sure he was right there when Gregor Blanco caught the final out in left field, ready to hoist Lincecum in the air.
“With the ups and downs, he’s had a good attitude,” Posey said. “He’s continued to work hard. And this, I think, is a reward for it.”
It was obvious from the fifth inning that if Lincecum was going to throw a no-hitter, he was going to make Bruce Bochy pace himself a trench in the dugout.
Lincecum needed 148 pitches to go the distance – the most in the majors since Edwin Jackson threw 149 in a no-hitter for the White Sox in 2009. It was the most by a Giant since Vida Blue threw 153 in 1979.
But Bochy and Posey saw the same thing: Lincecum kept getting better every inning, he wasn’t laboring and he stayed within his delivery. And as Bochy pointed out, Lincecum often threw high pitch counts in college and played long toss the next day.
So he wasn’t going to let the pitch count ruin the day.
“There’s times when you throw that out and watch him, and see if he’s laboring,” Bochy said.
But Bochy wouldn’t ask Lincecum how he was feeling. Superstition, you know. He had pitching coach Dave Righetti ask, in the seventh inning. Righetti didn’t need to check on him again.
They’ll check on him Sunday morning, though.
“First thing I said when I hugged him, was, `You better be OK.’” Bochy said.
It’s kind of a funny coincidence. Lincecum’s previous high pitch count also came here at Petco Park, on Sept. 13, 2008. Bochy let him go to 138 pitches to finish up his first career shutout.
Lincecum didn’t have a complete game in his career yet, and Bochy knew that could be a strike against him among Cy Young voters. He took plenty of criticism after that start but insisted that Lincecum was just a freak of nature, able to handle a heavier workload and bounce back.
Back then, the manager was trying to raise the national profile of his young star. This time, he was determined to let Lincecum try to recapture a bit of that brilliance.
“He’s gone through a lot over the last couple years,” Bochy said. “It’s so great to see something nice happen for Timmy.”
Bochy had a friend of his, an author, deliver a motivational speech prior to Friday's game. Whatever he's asking for an honorarium, he should triple it.
Ryan Vogelsong was quick with the ice bucket on the field and just as quick to praise a pitcher who has dealt with his share of adversity and disappointment over the last two years.
“It was really great just to see his confidence going up and up every inning,” Vogelsong said. “It gets said all the time or whatever, but confidence really does mean so much in this game. It’s unbelievable. When things are falling into place or guys are making plays, you just know it’s going to keep happening that way.
“You go to a special place. He went there tonight, and he finished it off.”
Lincecum, on confidence and trusting his stuff: “I think you have to go back to trusting that those pitches are going to get outs, whether it’s your best pitch or not. It’s just having that conviction in them alone helps turns a bad pitch into a better one. You finish it in your mind and not worry about the result. Alleviating that helped me finish my pitches tonight.”
The Elias Sports Bureau had Lincecum with 29 swings and misses. I counted 26, as mentioned, but maybe I didn't include a couple check swings. Anyway, according to Elias, it was the most swings and misses in a start in Lincecum’s career, and it was tied with Randy Johnson for the most in a no-hitter since 2000.
Not only has Lincecum posted consecutive double-digit strikeout games for the first time since 2010, but it’s the first time any Giants pitcher has done it since Madison Bumgarner in 2011.
Lincecum threw the Giants’ first no-hitter on the road since John “The Count” Montefusco no-hit the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium in 1976.
With Lincecum’s no-hitter coming just 11 days after Homer Bailey no-hit the Giants in Cincinnati … when’s the last time a team has thrown a no-hitter and been no-hit in the same season?
It’s not as rare as you might think. Just last year, the Mariners had Felix Hernandez throw a perfect game and had Philip Humber throw one against them. The Rays were no-hit and also celebrated Matt Garza’s no-hitter in 2010.
Then there was 1968, when Gaylord Perry no-hit the Cardinals on Sept. 17 and Ray Washburn returned the favor for the Redbirds by no-hitting the Giants the following day.
It’s kind of funny, then, that Lincecum’s next start might come against the Reds.
Bochy said he’d “probably give him a couple extra days” when he orders the second-half rotation, given the 148 pitches he threw. The Giants begin with a three-game series against Arizona out of the break, then they’ll play host to Bailey and the Reds.
It’s no sure thing, obviously. But if Bailey and Lincecum happen to oppose each other, that would be pretty darn entertaining.
Hey! The Giants have a complete game this season. It came in their 93rd game. That’s the second longest they’d gone to start the season without a CG. They went 100 games in 2008.
Nice first day on the job for Jeff Francoeur, huh?
“Yeah, I do what I can,” he said, smiling.
The poor Padres. They still don’t have a no-hitter in their history. They’ve been victimized eight times. This was the first time a no-hitter has been thrown at Petco Park.
The Giants don’t need a no-hitter from Barry Zito. But his first road win of the season sure would be a nice way to enter the break Sunday.
Lincecum, don’t forget, hadn’t won a road start since April 3 at Dodger Stadium. That’s not a dig on him as much as it highlights the Giants' need to pitch consistently better on the road if they hope to carry over some second-half magic and be relevant in the pennant race.
There's a bottle of Beaux Freres pinot noir in my hotel room, which is the smartest purchase I made all week.