All you need to know is that people now call it “Lincecum Day.” Every day The Freaky Franchise is scheduled to start is a celebration, really unlike anything the Bay Area has ever seen. Nobody called Sundays “Joe Montana Day” in the 1980’s, although if people did there wouldn’t have been message boards, blogs, Twitter and Facebook pages to spread the word anyway.
Still, the hysteria that surrounds each Tim Lincecum start around here is only rivaled by three similar cases in recent history: Fernandomania, Doc Gooden before coke became more important than baseball, and Pedro with the Red Sox.
So naturally, after Lincecum smokes 11 Phillies via strikeout and hasn’t even reached 110 pitches through 8 1/3 innings, the feeling fans get when he’s taken away by the Grim Bochy doesn’t sit well. Fans live to see history, and like a crazy ex-girlfriend/boyfriend you just can’t seem to break up with, we want closure and a little suffering from our athletes. Don’t leave us hanging, and don’t make it look too easy.
That’s where the complete game comes in, and why we should attempt to understand how important they truly are (or aren’t) today.
Ask anybody who considers themselves “old school” (And by “old school,” I mean people who’s line of thinking is usually, “Men are meant to endure pain, and anybody who tries to baby grown men should be outed as the wussies they are.”), and they’ll tell you one of the tragedies of the modern game of baseball is that pitchers are treated like Ming vases.
What do we need pitch counts for? Let the kid throw until his arm falls off, then toss him a bag of ice and a bottle of Jim Beam and tell him to do whatever he likes with those items.
I’m in agreement that pitch counts, like word counts to a writer, aren’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to effectiveness. Pitch counts are an indicator, but they shouldn’t be the only thing monitored when deciding when to pull a starting pitcher who’s past the building-up-arm-strength point of the season.
When it comes to stretching, sharply bending over and trying to touch your toes when your body’s cold is now known to be a bad idea. You need to gradually warm up first, then do different semi-aerobic kinds of stretches for shorter periods of time or your muscles will revolt (I know I’m not a personal trainer, but this stuff is true, people). Athletes used to either not stretch at all, or stretch incorrectly. They also used to eat as much red meat and smoke as many cigarettes as possible, and pitchers were expected to finish every game they started unless a dislocated shoulder or elbow was involved, and even in those cases it was thought to be a good idea that the pitcher at least tried to stay until the last out.
Today we know that many of the ways people used to do things are wildly incorrect. We also know that instead of paying attention solely to the total amount of pitches thrown during the game, the manager and pitching coach should look at other things, like high-stress innings or noticeable signs of fatigue (like walking someone on four pitches with a 3-run lead). Because every pitcher will tell you that if you’re comfortable and have the energy, the 125th pitch can be just as easy to throw as the 5th pitch of the game. But if you got out of a bases-loaded jam after a 12-pitch battle in the fourth, that 95th pitch you threw in the fifth inning may put enough stress on your body to cause a breakdown in mechanics or even injury.
All of this brings us to one conclusion, one that many of you aren’t going to agree with: Bochy was correct to play the cautious card with the best starting pitcher in the game.
As many people on Twitter were showing during the early innings yesterday, people aren’t just satisfied with Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter, they want to predict the first no-no for Timmy (thanks for jinxing, people…y’all are worse than Dave Flemming). Then when that’s gone, how about a complete game shutout? The shutout’s gone? How about a complete game win?
Fans are selfish. And why shouldn’t we be? Lincecum games not only come with “Lincecum Day,” they also come with Dynamic Pricing. When we click “submit” on the online order form, also paying the “convenience fees” and “printing charges” that those robbers from Ticketmaster slap on at the end, we aren’t dreaming of the opportunity to see Brian Wilson get Jayson Werth to fly out to Nate Schierholtz to end a 4-1 game. We’re thinking, “This may be the afternoon where I’m a part of history.”
I know I thought that way. It killed me not to call in sick to work yesterday and walk the extra mile to AT&T Park, ignoring my daily grind. And listening to the Giants give away the game again and again killed me while listening to the action from my half-cubicle.
However, when Lincecum walked Victorino on four pitches, most of them up above the strike zone, I couldn’t have been the only one to figure there was a better chance with Wilson pitching than leaving Timmy Jim in there. In video game terms, at that time Lincecum’s stamina level would have been around 42, with Wilson at 100. If Bochy had left Lincecum in the game, there was a pretty good chance he’d either walk Utley or give up a base hit (giving Wilson an even stickier save situation or leaving Lincecum to pitch to a guy in Ryan Howard who Lincecum probably wouldn’t have shied away from, even though Howard has a little ownage). Then we’d all be wondering why Bochy didn’t take Lincecum out earlier instead of running up his pitch count and seemingly taking away Lincecum’s chance of earning a win.
But oh, the mighty complete game. The good ol’ American way of finishing what you start. (Right Sarah Palin?) When you have a finite resource (like great Tim Lincecum starts and/or fastballs over 90 mph in a year where the ultimate goal is to pitch well in the playoffs), what sense does it make to push your luck when you have any inkling that Lincecum is suffering from fatigue?Â Complete games are fun to remember, and we’d get to hear Mike Krukow wax poetic for the next 24 hours, but what do they really accomplish other than providing a nice number to point to at the end of the season?
And to those whining that the pitch count was low yesterday, are you forgetting that Lincecum threw for 120 pitches in his last start? It’s not like Bochy and Dave Righetti set a limit before the game like some 1st round pick in Single-A — the problem was fatigue, not some arbitrary triple-digit number.
Sure, Sandy Koufax pitched on two days rest for two months and threw 20 complete games in a row or whatever one season, but he also retired at the age of 30 in excruciating pain with a left elbow the size of a grapefruit. Just because legends were created back in the 1960’s doesn’t mean we need to re-create them today, damn the consequences.
This is not a defense of Bochy as a manager. He’s a .490 winning percentage manager, through and through. He won’t fall asleep in the dugout, but he’s hardly one of the game’s great innovators or motivators. However, while Bochy’s in charge of things like putting Eugenio Velez in the game and keeping him there until he sabotages the game and any shred of confidence that remained in that little head of his, Lincecum decisions are made by a panel. Even if Bochy wanted to pull a Prior/Wood on Lincecum like Dusty Baker did, he’d get Billy Beane-style orders from upstairs to take Lincecum out of the game.
Why? Because the Giants Brass knows that Lincecum Day is the best thing that has happened to this franchise since BALCO became famous, and they’re interested in keeping it going. After complete games are thrown, ticket prices don’t go up retroactively (although if the Giants could figure out a way to do that, they surely would). But as long as Timmy’s available to keep Dynamic Pricing viable, the dream for no-hitters, shutouts and complete games lives on.
The thirst for complete games is understandable, and not necessarily a bad thing for fans to hope for. But it can’t be the only thing.