SAN FRANCISCO – Paul Goldschmidt stands there at his locker, his arms crossed but otherwise approachable, and looks you straight in the eye.
“You know he’s a good pitcher,” said Goldschmidt, without a note of sarcasm, after rocking Tim Lincecum for yet another home run Wednesday night. “It’s never a comfortable at-bat.”
To Goldschmidt, maybe. To everyone else with functioning retinas, it’s all goose feathers and memory foam.
The Arizona Diamondbacks’ soft-spoken, slugging first baseman has paddled and pinballed Lincecum over his career while going 13 for 24 with seven home runs; his three-run shot in the first inning sent a sellout crowd to bed without supper in Arizona’s 7-3 victory.
Goldschmidt has 66 career home runs, 10 against the Giants – and seven against Lincecum.
Put another way: Goldschmidt has hit the same number of home runs in 24 at-bats as the eight major league hitters Lincecum has faced most often – Troy Tulowitzki, Miguel Montero, Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Helton, Justin Upton, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp -- have hit in a total of 405 at-bats.
Mike Krukow calls this ownage. Goldschmidt calls it something else.
“Lucky,” he said, pointing out that his shot into the right field arcade – which was just the 22nd by a right-handed opponent here, by the way -- might not have pierced the fog if it came a few innings later.
“Look at the ball (a fly out near the right field corner in the seventh) that Buster Posey hit. It could’ve been caught in a gap. It really had to be hit down the line like that. I don’t even think it got out by much, did it?
“You’ve got to get a little lucky to have some success.”
There is a lot of false humility in this game. Sometimes a player will deliver noble patter to the notepads and save the chirping for later. With Goldschmidt, truly, there’s no strutting after he’s through trotting.
Last season, when Goldschmidt was making a run at the NL MVP award, a Diamondbacks writer began gathering string for a takeout-length feature on him. The writer told Goldschmidt that he planned to interview Lincecum for the piece. Goldschmidt implored the writer not to do so, saying he didn’t think it would be respectful.
There is something so refreshing when a player is embarrassed by his success. As Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill said, Goldschmidt always goes out of his way to credit an opposing pitcher, no matter how much he bludgeoned him in the box score.
For Lincecum, this latest gash might have been slightly less bewildering because his issues weren’t confined to his nemesis. He was dreadful from the first pitch and stayed that way. He blamed his four-inning, seven-run start on a mechanical issue he’s battled since the spring, which causes his arm angle to drop down. His fastball was up as a result, and every offspeed pitch was flat.
“I couldn’t get out of it,” Lincecum said. “I kept repeating that bad movement.”
The easiest, most visible way to evaluate a struggling pitcher is to look at the radar readings. But scouts will note another kind of speed. His whole life, Lincecum’s arm would whip in a blur amid his gymnastic delivery. In addition to overwhelming stuff, he had deception. The hitter couldn’t pick up the ball out of his hand, and because he generated so much slingshot-like torque from his legs and torso, he didn’t need to muscle up pitches. His arm was merely along for the ride.
Lincecum remains an elite athlete, but his arm speed isn’t what it was. And he’s still learning to adapt to that.
“It’s more of a timing issue,” he said. “The arm doesn’t get up and it tries to find the quickest way to get to home plate. That’s been something I’m working on. I’ve got to get back to repeating it every time.”
It’s not an easy adjustment to make in the middle of a start, he acknowledged. That’s when he has to fight through, rely on his smarts and the homework he’s done, and make pitches to a hitter’s cold zones. Be the crafty veteran, even though it’s a role he hasn’t been able to play without whispered lines and cue cards.
With nobody out in the first inning and runners at the corners, the safest if less conventional course – and maybe a common wish in the stands -- would have been to walk Goldschmidt, or at least pitch around him. But Lincecum, two starts into his two-year, $35 million contract, did not throw in the towel. He threw a 1-1 fastball on the outer half, instead.
“No,” said Lincecum, asked if he thought of just keeping the lid on the wicker basket. “I had to get my out any way I could, and I didn’t (have) any out, so…”
He lifted the lid, and got bit.
His takeaway from this latest encounter with Goldschmidt: “I’ve got to start leaning more on my strengths and not necessarily his weaknesses. I know he’s got some holes here and there but I’ve got to mix up my pitch routines and right now I’m just falling into backwards counts. It’s pretty dangerous.”
In the process, Lincecum provided a helpful reminder: For all the power the Giants have displayed early this season, including two more home runs Wednesday to give them a major league best 14 in nine games, they cannot win consistently at home without a quality start. It’s like climbing a ladder without the rungs: technically possible if you’ve got some circus training, but not advisable.
At least Lincecum won’t be in the same tent with Goldschmidt again until late June, at the earliest. Not that Goldschmidt would brag that he’s tamed an erstwhile Cy Young Award winner.
“I don’t know what the difference is,” Goldschmidt said. “Whatever pitcher is out there, you’re trying to pick up the ball. It doesn’t mean you’ll have success if you can.
I don’t really know the answer. As a hitter, you try to do the same thing every time and have a good at-bat, see the ball, get your timing going.”
And get as comfortable as you can.