SAN FRANCISCO It could have wrecked some teams, to go twomonths without a victory from their opening-day starter.
Tim Lincecums self-doubt could have leeched into the brainsof his teammates. It could have cast a shadow over AT&T Park. It could havesent the Giants reeling.
Instead, on the day Lincecum finally broke his unfathomable 10-startwinless streak, wouldnt you know it? The Giants resurfaced as a first-placeteam.
After trailing the Dodgers by as many as 7 games thisseason it was five games just 10 days ago the Giants now stand in a tiewith their archrivals atop the NL West. Its a new season on June 27 and a newstart, and nobody needed a clean slate more than Lincecum.
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He used the eraser to rub out the Dodgers in a 3-0 victoryon Wednesday, and you know all the history by now. The Giants didnt allow arun while sweeping the three-game series. Thats the first time theyveaccomplished that feat against any team since 1954, when Marv Grissom, SalMaglie and Johnny Antonelli shut out the Philadelphia Phillies at the PoloGrounds.
The Giants have never done it to their archrivals in more than a century of butting heads.
The significance is obvious. The effect on the standings, and the psyches, is obvious, too.
But heres the most encouragingpart for anyone hoisting an orange-handled broom Wednesday afternoon: Barry Zito and Lincecumwere two of the three starting pitchers. Fold them into the steady, superlativecontributions the Giants have received all season from the likes of Matt Cain,Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner, and this is a team that could catchflight.
(Or at least send them past the Dodgers, whose equipmenttruck no joke broke down on 101 on the way to SFO.)
Lincecum, you've no doubt noticed, had become the ace of this staff in name only. Butsometime after the first inning last Friday in Oakland, he reminded himself whohe was. And his seven-word motivational speech could be summarized this way: ImTim (freaking) Lincecum, and youre not!
I was focusing my pissed-offedness, you could say, in theright direction, said Lincecum, after holding the Dodgers to four hits and twowalks while striking out eight. Im not sure madness is the right word, orfrustration. Its like, Ive got nothing left to lose here, even if thatsnot necessarily the case. But for me, that was enough.
Enough was enough and it was time to turn it around.
You could almost read those thoughts on Lincecums faceafter he blocked the plate in the third inning, thrusting his 165-pound frame infront of the plate after throwing a pitch that bounced past catcher HectorSanchez. Lincecum was giving up almost 80 pounds to Dodgers pitcher ChadBillingsley, who tried to score from third base. Lincecum didnt show a glimmerof fear or hesitation.
I mean, I didnt want them to get a run, Lincecum said.Im not much to go through, but he was going to have to go through me to getto the plate.
Billingsley slid into Lincecums left leg and toppled himover. Little Timmy held onto the ball, even though his glove got knocked off.He held it aloft for umpire Fieldin Culbreth, and a shock of celebration wentthrough him when he realized the call went his way.
How does that Japanese proverb go? Fall down seven times,get up eight?
Lincecum has spent his share of time knocked down in thedust, literally and figuratively. Remember that shot he took at the plate fromOaklands Colin Cowgill a month ago?
This time, he kept his nose in there. And he won the fight.
That was definitely for me Ive been talking about thingsnot going my way or whatnot, Lincecum said. It was nice to see it go theother way. And it wasnt necessarily my way. It was the teams way. Just to seethe reaction from the crowd, to see the reaction from your teammates when thosethings happen, it lifts the whole team, not just myself.
It lifted the Giants to see their ace pitching like himselfagain. Right-hander Sergio Romo called it gratifying. Shortstop BrandonCrawford described it as normal Timmy.
Lincecum threw 59 percent offspeed on his 115 pitches andthe curve was a major weapon. He threw strikes on 10 of 14 curveballs. Hischange-up had its familiar fade and bite, too. He threw 27 of them, 19 forstrikes. He got six whiffs on the changeup, six more on the slider. And for themost part, was able to get ahead with his fastball to put himself in a positionto use his offspeed stuff.
Hes had the stuff, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. Ithink he realized how good he is and he took that into todays game.
Another factor: Lincecum paced himself. He took more timebetween pitches, trying to make sure things never felt like they were spinningout of control.
He never threw more than 21 pitches in any inning, sostamina wasnt an issue, either. His highest pitch count came in the seventh,after a single and a one-out walk.
In the hours before the game, Bochy was asked about closerSantiago Casilla and he described what he wants to see and hear from hispitcher when he visits the mound to check on him.
Bochy went to check onLincecum in the seventh. He liked what he saw and heard.
He was adamant. He was good, Bochy said. I want him toknow I have confidence in him. I liked the way he was throwing. Yeah, I had acouple guys ready there. But he was honest, and I thought that was huge forhim, to get in that situation late in the ballgame and get out of it.
Thats the Timmy we know, fighting through it, and he did.
Said Lincecum: The second I saw him trotting out to meinstead of the walk it gave me the inclination Im going to probably be inthis game if I give him the right answer. And, you know, I stillhad plenty of energy out there and I still felt like I had my stuff. So I wasgoing to grind it out no matter what.
What was the right answer that Lincecum gave his manager?
Well Lincecum said. He was asking me, You got this? AndI said, Yeah. He said, What? And I said, Yes sir!
Lincecum got Tony Gwynn Jr. to fly out. Then he went changeup,fastball, fastball, slider, curve showing confidence in four pitches to strikeout old friend and World Series teammate Juan Uribe.
And as the standing ovation attested, it was a HappyLincecum Day once more.
Its something Im used to hearing every once in awhile,Lincecum said. So to get that feeling back with the team and the fans, itsknowing theyve still got my back and theyre pushing forward and they want meto do the same thing. So thats what Im trying to do.
Were tied with the Dodgers for first place, so to be inthe position were in says a lot about us.
Its a new season, and for that, Lincecum is grateful.
I feel like Ive had a good support system here with myteammates picking me up between starts and even talking to me between games andstuff just to get me back to where I need to be, he said. Sometimes itstough to feel vulnerable enough to ask for help because things have just, Iwouldnt say theyve been easy for me, but theyve gone my way for the most part.
So theyve been great about helping build my confidence upand letting me know, Youre better than this. You can get out of this. Youvedone it before. So why not do it again?
Lincecum thought back to that wild pitch, and that play at the plate with Billingsley.
"Sanchez made a great play on a (crappy) pitch," he said. "So its funnyhow the ugly thing worked out to a pretty cool thing."
Kind of like ending a 10-start winless streak by pitching your team into first place.