The Freak. The two Cy Young Awards. The 2010 World Series title. The regression. The frustration. The worries about his delivery and durability. The temporary move to the bullpen in last year’s playoffs. The World Series resurgence. Another championship. Then another decline, with a 5.12 ERA at the beginning of this June.
For a while, we’ve wondered where Tim Lincecum goes from here.
Saturday, for one night, we could again celebrate the marvel he’s been — and maybe still is.
Lincecum threw the first no-hitter of his career — in the Giants’ 9-0 win in San Diego — and there will be those who discredit it by saying he needed 148 pitches to do it. I won’t be one of them.
A no-hitter is a no-hitter. If you record 27 outs against a major-league lineup without surrendering a hit, you deserve to be cheered wildly — as Lincecum was Saturday, by a predictably large contingent of Giants fans at Petco Park.
So, Lincecum isn’t finished at age 29. In fact — although not yet his Cy Young self — he had restored his value to the San Francisco rotation long before blanking the Padres. Lincecum had a 3.83 ERA over his last seven starts before Saturday, while averaging more than one strikeout per inning.
The Padres, who rank near the middle of the National League in runs scored, are a fairer barometer for judging a pitcher than they’ve been at any point in recent memory. And to the extent that Lincecum’s previous struggles could have been attributable to a temporary confidence shortage, Saturday’s performance should deliver a lasting ego boost.
Now comes the fun part: Can the Giants really trade Lincecum now?
Multiple sources told me recently that some teams — the Tigers are one — have interest in acquiring Lincecum as a reliever for the stretch drive. Of course, that presumes that the Giants will become sellers at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. That’s far from certain, even with a 43-50 record.
The National League West remains winnable, Lincecum (even at 80 percent of his peak) could stabilize the rotation in the second half, and defending champions rarely take themselves apart.
Besides, what happened Saturday night — however unexpected — is certain to galvanize Lincecum’s many supporters in San Francisco. He’s the foremost hipster hero in baseball, a perfect fit for the Bay Area. To trade him now would be very unpopular, and the Giants are reluctant to do anything that might jeopardize the sustainability of sold-out gatherings at AT&T Park.
Still, even a no-hitter didn’t change one fundamental dynamic of Lincecum’s baseball career: He’s earning $22 million this season, and no team is likely to pay him that much in annual salary once he becomes a free agent after this year. The Giants, for their part, need to see more consistency from Lincecum in the second half before giving serious thought to having him in their 2014 rotation. The bullpen might be his best role in the future, but that conversation quite obviously has been tabled until a later date.
Saturday’s game didn’t prove that Lincecum is all the way back. It did, however, show that he has something to offer the Giants — or perhaps someone else.