At least this wasn't one of those ambiguous, ton-o'-strikeouts Tim Lincecum starts! It was unambiguously awful. And sweaty. Mostly awful. You can cynically point out that, boy oh boy, his batting average on balls put in play sure was high tonight! Then you can make a snotty face, flip off the statheads, and kick something on your way out. You can apologize later.
The worst part is that if he had this start last year, we could have used the heat narrative. Because Lincecum really does look like he's in danger of passing out after he throws three pitches on a hot day. There's a joke to be made about mop-up relievers and Lincecum's sweatiness, but I can't find the right wording, and I'm in a bad mood anyway. Regardless, I want to believe in the heat narrative.
Instead, this gets folded into the what's-wrong-with-Timmy? narrative that's been the worst part of a pretty good season. Now we have no choice but to remember that the A's and Dodgers have offenses that are usually good for a free throw or field goal every other game. Maybe Lincecum isn't back. I wanted him to be back. I changed the little label on my mailbox, indicating that he was back. Now he might not be? Don't know. We'll probably know within the next 14 or 15 starts, so everybody just sit tight.
The pitch of clarity was the first-pitch curve Lincecum threw to Jordan Zimmermann. It was bad enough to be art -- just sublime. The idea behind the first-pitch curve to a pitcher is to steal a strike. But this one was so bad, the opposing pitcher recognized it, sat back on it, realized it was probably the best pitch he'd have to hit for the next month, and drove it to the opposite field. If you wanted to talk with someone who didn't speak English, and your life depended on you conveying the meaning of "bad pitch", that's what you'd draw for them. They'd get it.
Woof. And that's Lincecum out of the stretch: He throws about 10 percent more of those. There's a 10 percent uptick in abominable pitches this year from Lincecum out of the stretch. That doesn't sound like much, but this is baseball. I'll pull out the old canard about how the difference between Neifi Perez and a Hall of Famer is a hit instead of an out 10 percent of the time. The difference between All-Star Tim Lincecum and Brad-Penny-is-suddenly-a-reasonable-alternative-oh-god Linecum is an extra crappy pitch out of every ten he throws with a runner on base.
Obviously, I'm pulling these numbers out of the Ass-o-Tron 3000, but it's the idea that counts. And I can't figure out what the difference is between Lincecum in the windup and Lincecum in the stretch. There should be a magic Lincecum 8-ball that we can shake. Excessive heat! Bad mechanics! Reply hazy, try again! Arm gremlins! Psychological problems!
But today was the heat! I'm telling you, the heat! You gotta believe me! The heat!
If there's a silver lining to this game, it's there wasn't a rain delay that made us wait around for oh shit.
If there's another silver lining to the game, it's that the Hector Sanchez-as-pitcher-whisperer balloon was punctured. I don't blame Bruce Bochy for throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what stuck, but it's pretty clear that Lincecum and Sanchez don't have some unbreakable mind meld that turns Lincecum back into the Cy Young pitcher who ensorceled us all.
When Lincecum struck out Ryan Zimmerman on a fastball, I almost spit out my drink. What movement! At 93 miles per hour! What life! When I went back to watch it, it was still a good fastball. But it wasn't the movement of the pitch that was impressive:
No, the impressive part was the stab-fu from Hector Sanchez. Once I started watching for it, it was happening on almost every pitch. I don't blame Sanchez. He's a young catcher, and he's dealing with a pitcher who has great stuff (some of the time). He'll get there. And it's not like his receiving was the difference between a good or a bad outing from Lincecum tonight.
But it's a scrap of evidence that the best Giants team that can be put on the field doesn't have anything to do with Sanchez. He'll still have to play and give Buster Posey some rest, of course. Every fifth day sounds just ducky. More playing time than that -- on the theory that anything he does behind the plate is somehow preferable to what Posey does -- is absolutely insane. Calling pitches, throwing runners out, keeping his pitchers calm, hitting ... none of it is an upgrade.
You deal with it because you can't clone Posey. Yet. You deal with it because Posey needs rest. But you don't do it on purpose. And I don't think anyone can argue that after a game like tonight's. If Sanchez isn't actively making his pitcher better, there's no reason to play him when you don't need to.