Tim Lincecum on his way to a Cy Young Award in his first major league season
September 21, 2008
For Lincecum, Simple Leads to Spectacular
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — These days, even Tim Lincecum’s teammates are asking for his autograph.
Catcher Bengie Molina did the other day, stopping by Lincecum’s locker with Lincecum’s card, a marker and a protective plastic sleeve for the keepsake in hand.
Rich Aurilia said he planned to have something signed before the end of the season, too.
Lincecum has become used to the fanfare that has surrounded his first full major league season for the San Francisco Giants. He made the National League All-Star team, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, is a leading Cy Young Award candidate and an ace at barely 24. That is after he earned the nickname Franchise from his teammates last year when he broke into the big leagues only a year out of college.
A perfectionist with his share of quirks, Lincecum insists he does not let his mind wander thinking about everything he has accomplished at such a young age. He is more interested in maintaining his focus and mechanics from pitch to pitch.
“That’s just me in general,” Lincecum said after a recent start. “That’s the way my dad raised me: don’t get too excited about the good things or the bad things. People have expectations for you. You have expectations for yourself. I’m not worried about anything but making good pitches. I think about making quality pitches. You just try to keep that mentality throughout the game.”
The departing Giants owner, Peter Magowan, said he considered Lincecum, chosen 10th over all in the 2006 draft out of the University of Washington, the organization’s top pitching prospect since the Hall of Famer Juan Marichal signed with the New York Giants as an amateur free agent in 1957.
Not that one would know it by looking at Lincecum, who is 5 feet 11 inches and 170 pounds but tough.
The hard-throwing right-hander has an unorthodox delivery that most pitching coaches would be hard-pressed to endorse: torquing his body, twisting his head, recoiling after his release. Lincecum says what makes it work so well is keeping his shoulder and arm on an even plane — something his father, Chris, showed him way back when he was learning to pitch.
“I was taught that if the level of my arm is even with my shoulders, I’ll be fine,” he said. “My dad told me that.”
It sure works. Lincecum is the ninth Giant since 1900 to record 200 strikeouts in a season, and was leading the majors in strikeouts with 243 heading into the weekend after his start Thursday at Arizona. He is 17-4 with a 2.46 earned run average and lost to the Diamondbacks despite pitching his second straight complete game, this one only eight innings — his first defeat in two months. He has shown his durability in 215 2/3 innings this year after making 24 starts as a rookie in 2007.
“Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan were unorthodox, and people couldn’t do what they do,” Arizona second baseman Orlando Hudson said. “He might be put right in that category one day. I like him. I hope he stays healthy. He’s a guy who can be around a while and be a 15-game winner every year. He has electrifying stuff and he’s like Dwight Gooden.”
Lincecum is so good, Giants General Manager Brian Sabean has categorized him all but untouchable when it comes to trade talks.
He has come up big after Giants losses, going 13-2 with a 2.82 E.R.A. in such games. And San Francisco has won in 16 of those 23 outings.
Although Diamondbacks Manager Bob Melvin is rooting for his pitcher Brandon Webb to win the Cy Young Award, he is giving Lincecum his due.
“He has had dominant stuff all year long,” Melvin said. “He seems like he goes into an extra gear.”
Molina, who takes losing as hard as anybody, said that winning for Lincecum had been one bright spot to focus on during yet another down season in the Bay Area.
“That’s a lot of motivation right there,” Molina said. “Heck yeah, I hope and wish we pull that one out — Lincecum, Cy Young. The only thing that might surprise me about him is his heart. At the end of games, he shows even more heart.”
Manager Bruce Bochy is often booed when he removes Lincecum from games. He says he has come to expect it. The fans get into every pitch that leaves Lincecum’s hand, from the fastball he throws in the mid-90s to the curveballs and changeups he uses to keep hitters off balance.
He says he does not pay too much attention to the cheers and regular standing ovations that come when he walks off the mound.
“He’s one of those guys like Fernandomania,” the Arizona pitching coach Bryan Price said, referring to the hype surrounding pitcher Fernando Valenzuela with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1980s. “Beyond being able to enjoy seeing this guy do his thing, the fans get behind him. And it’s very impressive for a young guy that he has his mental facilities in order. He doesn’t get rattled. That changeup he’s been throwing is almost a joke. When he’s on, he’s on.”
Aurilia, in his second stint with San Francisco, said he would also have something autographed by Lincecum soon.
“He has been around long enough that he can see talent — and talent that can sustain for a long time,” Aurilia said. “Tim is one of those guys you’re happy to have on your team.”
Lincecum has not always been so calm and collected on the mound. In fact, he acknowledges he used to have tantrums while pitching. His father quickly put a stop to that.
“I used to be that kid who threw up his arms when he didn’t get a pitch, or I showed emotion,” Lincecum said. “I remember a game when I was 13, my dad came out and told me to stop. He hated that.”
Perhaps that is why Lincecum seems to be mature beyond his years. He is no longer mistaken for the team bat boy when he arrives at the ballpark through the players’ entrance, a regular occurrence after he was called up in May last year because of his boyish looks.
“The general thinking in baseball is you stay away from short, right-handed pitchers,” Price said. “He could get injured. There’s apprehension about his long-term durability. It doesn’t matter. This guy might pitch 20 years in the big leagues, and hopefully, he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. It was a calculated risk, and the Giants are reaping the benefits.”
Lincecum is a risk San Francisco hopes will pay off for years to come.
“He doesn’t have any weaknesses,” his fellow Giants pitcher Noah Lowry said. “It’s fun to watch him every time he takes the mound. He’s capable of throwing no-hit ball every time.”
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