Lincecum regains form -- and so much more
No-hitter offers Giants, right-hander sign of good things to come
You could see his confidence grow inning by inning. Remember that Tim Lincecum? His slider was wicked, his control precise. Surely, he sensed he was in command as opposing hitters lunged at pitches and walked back to the dugout shaking their heads.
Through the years, that's one of the things that made Lincecum different. Opposing hitters always had a game plan. Opposing hitters always thought maybe they'd catch him on a bad day.
When he was at his best, they had no chance. They didn't pretend otherwise. Sometimes in the other clubhouse, they talked about squandering chances or not taking advantage of opportunities, and they cursed themselves for letting one slip away.
With Lincecum in those early years, there was very little of that. In his first four full seasons with the Giants, he averaged 220 innings and 244 strikeouts per year. He compiled a 2.81 ERA in those four years.
Perhaps the highest compliment came from the old-timers. No, he was not Juan Marichal or Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale. He simply was Timmy, who won with decent velocity, with dazzling movement and location and with guile and guts.
And then it went away. In the last two seasons, he's 14-24 with a 4.97 ERA. His velocity declined. His control went away. There were days he seemed like the most hittable guy on Earth.
He has still shown occasional flashes of greatness, but he simply was unable to sustain anything. This being a contract year and all, there was already intense speculation about whether the Giants would want him back or if another team would believe he still had something left in the tank.
He's still just 29 years old. After 206 starts. After all the ups and downs. And he never stopped working on a solution, never stopped doubting, publicly at least, that he'd eventually figure things out again.
He was terrific in his previous start, this one against the Mets, when he walked one and struck out 11. Was he teasing the Giants again? Or had Tim Lincecum again gotten back on track.
Because he was still so young, because his mechanics were nearly flawless and because he wasn't injured, there was always the possibility that he simply was having a long tough stretch and that eventually things would fall back into place.
Whether Saturday night was that turning point remains to be seen. All we know for sure is that Lincecum has never been better. In throwing his first career no-hitter, a monumental 148-pitch effort, he looked a lot like the guy he once was and the guy the Giants hope he can be again.
He got his fastball up in the 91 mph range, but he showed the Padres a little bit of everything, a changeup here, a curveball there. His fastball doesn't have the blazing velocity it once had, but it was plenty good enough on Saturday as the Giants won, 9-0.
It was a huge game for Lincecum, a game in which at least for one night he could re-establish himself, gain some confidence, perhaps springboard into a nice second half.
The Giants need something like that as well. Their only chance of getitng back into contention probably is huge second halves by Matt Cain and Lincecum. The thing about the Giants is that they've been counted out before, even in their championship seasons of 2010 and 2012.
And then the general manager, Brian Sabean, makes a deal that flies way under the radar and the manager, Bruce Bochy, makes it all work. So don't count them out just yet.
On Saturday night, the game had a different feel even in the early innings. It was not just that Lincecum struck out six straight Padres between the second and fourth innings. It was how he did it.
Racking up pitches
He got Will Venable on a slider and Rene Rivera on a fastball to end the second. He'd set Rivera up with a nice curveball, then came right back at him with a fastball. No chance.
In the third inning, he got one strikeout on a slider, another on a curve and yet another on a changeup. If he didn't sense that this might be a special evening by then, the Padres might have.
At that point, they simply couldn't anticipate a pitch or a location. Lincecum was that good.
The 13 strikeouts helped run up his pitch count. He also walked four. Still, he sailed into the ninth with the no-hitter, and it seemed routine from there.
He struck out Chase Headley on a 90 mph fastball to open the inning, then got Carlos Quentin and Yonder Alonso on routine fly balls to end it. Almost before the final out had settled into Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco's glove, catcher Buster Posey had raced to the mound to embrace his pitcher.
It surely was a moment of release for Lincecum and all these tortuous two years have taught him. But it probably was equally satisfying for all the Giants, who've had a terrible first half.
On this night, Lincecum showed them a way out. Along the way, he mapped out a pretty good course for himself as well.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.