You know you shouldn’t believe in this stuff. Baseball games aren’t affected by what month it happens to be. Seasons don’t turn on one inning. So let’s just accept the fourth inning for what it was.
The first time in a long time that the Giants looked like The Giants again.
Not the real Giants, mind you. The idealized version. The version you let yourself think about during the offseason, after all the major moves have been made and everyone is 100% healthy.
Tim Lincecum, a presence powerful enough to alter how everyone feels about the team (for 20 hours, anyway), hit Yadier Molina to load the bases with no one out. Then he struck out Allen Craig and Jon Jay (both on dastardly sliders in the dirt) before getting Daniel Descalso on a first-pitch groundout. That was like an espresso boost for the crowd, the offense, the defense, the manager, the general manager, Lincecum, everyone.
When was the last time you saw four guys in the heart of this order all do what they’re known for on their best days? Hunter Pence with a single that didn’t come easy — Marco Gonzales threw a pretty crisp 1-2 breaking pitch on the outside corner at the knees, but Pence drove it right back up the middle. Buster Posey faced an 0-2 inside fastball and cheated physics, somehow keeping his line drive from curling foul. That one gave Pence a chance to show that he’s probably the team’s fastest runner (I’ll never forget seeing a smiling Pence, with his arms raised in the air like a sprinter taking Olympic gold, after beating Darren Ford in a pregame outfield sprint during Spring Training).
Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse both displayed feats of strength, with the former hitting a pitch at the belt about 150 feet high that nearly scraped the back of the left field wall on its way down, and the latter muscling a curveball over Jay’s head for a double. Earlier in the season, Morse would’ve been pumping his arms, clapping and grinning at everyone in the dugout. After tonight’s double, Morse looked almost perturbed.
It’s been frustrating. And this 5-0 win over the Cardinals doesn’t sweep June under the rug, or take away the fact that these amazing Lincecum starts are the happy bookends surrounding a very meager combined effort in four games against the Reds. But this game had a different sound to it than any in recent memory, including the no-hitter. The no-hitter seemed to creep up on the crowd a little bit, and who could blame them. Lincecum hasn’t looked like a guy on the verge of throwing a no-hitter since the last time he threw one.
Maybe it was seeing four shutout innings right after his most recent no-hitter. Or how the team fell out of first place with alarming quickness. Or the sight of five runs in two innings, along with a bushel of extra-base hits that included Sandoval’s 100th homer. Or a familiar and respected opponent. But for the first time in quite a while, the focus wasn’t on gardens or Brandons, or how they’d go about pissing away the game this time. For a moment, it seemed like we were transported back in time.
But that’s the thing about being an idealist, or the feeling that comes from nostalgia drawing you in. Just as a losing streak can make a normally rational person consider giving up on a season in June, Lincecum at his best is absolutely intoxicating. Most of the talk shows will ask whether this means Lincecum is “back,” because if Lincecum has finally solved the riddle, it changes the entire season.
There is so much baseball left. It’s a total cliche, but it’s more important to remember on days like this than when they blow a lead in the ninth inning.
— Mike Krukow is 100% sold. Lincecum is back, he’s got the swagger, and we’re on our way to seeing a brand new arsenal with the same old badass. Krukow was so fired up that it wouldn’t be surprising to hear he went down to the bullpen and threw 60 pitches to Billy Hayes after the postgame wrap.
— What makes Lincecum’s second start seem like a true turnaround is that it came against the Cardinals. It’s not that any pitcher off the street can no-hit the Padres, but … sometimes it seems like anyone off the street (even a non-athlete, child or a senior citizen) can no-hit the Padres. But the Cardinals’ offense isn’t what it once was — this is the ninth time they’ve been shut out this year, the third time in five days.
Lincecum lowered his ERA at home to 2.81. The true test will be in Lincecum’s next road start, since his ERA is 6.68 away from AT&T. But his next start is at Petco, so that doesn’t count. Then he pitches at home against the D-Backs. So unless the Padres figure out Lincecum on Sunday, Lincecum’s next “prove it” moment comes the next time he faces Paul Goldschmidt. And there are other things to worry about between now and then.
— But if Lincecum really is back, we’ll get to see something we haven’t in a long time: a loud, boisterous, expressive, mischievous, sometimes-profane Lincecum in the dugout, both in the innings after good outings (Remember how he’d never retreat to the clubhouse after seven solid innings, instead fidgeting excitedly on the bench and against the rail, pumping his fist and yelling “WOOOOO” with regularity?) and in between starts while wearing a hoodie and throwing sunflower seeds all over the place.
— Lately — maybe since the no-hitter — Lincecum has taken to wearing some sort of neckerchief thing in the dugout. Hey, whatever works. Same with the cowboy boots that Sandoval apparently brought back to the dugout. Why did he stop bringing them into the dugout? Which coach is responsible for regulating the players’ superstitions, anyway?
— Lincecum turned 30 on June 15. On June 18, he allowed four runs in six innings in a loss to Arizona. His next start was the no-hitter. If he turned 30 on June 19, can you imagine how many “30 is the new 25” articles we’d be seeing tomorrow? Or, better yet, how many “30 means a new 55” stories? Ah hell, it’s impossible to come up with new ideas for this stuff every day. We’ll probably see those headlines anyway.
— The Dodgers lost 10-3 to the Indians and ran themselves into a triple play that included Yasiel Puig getting thrown out at second after Dee Gordon was tagged out at home. It wasn’t a symbol of anything changing, but it was a reminder that this year’s Dodgers occasionally get in their own way. Every team does, but not quite with the same panache as the $239 million team in L.A.
— That’s eight doubles in the last 10 games for Posey after six in his previous 65.
— Brandon Crawford’s defense was fantastic. Pence made a fine running catch on Craig’s drive to Triple’s Alley. The game lasted less than two and a half hours. All of these things seem related.
— Hector Sanchez took a Lincecum one-hopper off his right hand, appeared as if he might need to come out of the game, and stayed in for all nine innings.
— Angel Pagan has sciatica, so he’s flying to Los Angeles tomorrow to see a back specialist about next steps. Maybe his agency has a doctor they insist their clients use at times like these, but isn’t there a way Pagan can see a back specialist in San Francisco or at Stanford Medical Center instead of hopping on an airplane? It’s not like the Giants play in Weed.
Anyway, Pagan isn’t coming back anytime soon.
— Bruce Bochy told reporters that Brandon Belt’s thumb is still a little swollen, but he’s healthy enough to play full-time for Fresno. He went 1-for-4 today in Sacramento, but he was charged with a throwing error. So my prediction from earlier today may not come true.
— I’m guessing it’s due to online feeds and such, but minor league video makes the games look like they’re played underwater.