This game was a Zen koan. When a schleprock pitcher like Tim Lincecum meets a team of schleprocks like the Blue Jays, which team is going to have the darker cloud following them around? Can God make a schleprock so unlucky that another schleprock looks unlucky by comparison? Let's get some popcorn and see.
And just when I thought I was the first person to use "schleprock" in a baseball-related context, a Google search pulls this up. Well played, Dodgers fans. Well played.
A "schleprock" isn't just an unlucky person. It's a person with a black cloud above them at all times doing awful things to them. Luck, fate, a mess of their own making ... at some point, no one cares. Lincecum's been like that for a year or so, taking a break to win a damned World Series, and the Blue Jays have been like that for about the same length of time. Maybe longer. But it's a miracle that Josh Johnson didn't explode in a puff of smoke like Mick Shrimpton the second he touched a baseball again.
That's how the Blue Jays' season has gone this year, give or take. And when the two got together …
- Tim Lincecum pitched the best game of his season
- Alfonso Marquez demonstrated more contributions to the field of awful and the awful arts in general
- Andres Torres continued to do good things, be the best person
- The Giants hit a two-run homer instead of a solo shot because of an error made by a player who isn't supposed to leave the dugout in the first place, which is a very Blue Jays way to lose a game
It's that first bullet point that you're interested in. And Lincecum was a different pitcher on Tuesday night. No, he was actually a different pitcher. He threw 31 curveballs according to Brooks Baseball -- six more than he threw in April, and seven more than he threw in May. That almost seems made up, but it's not. That's the extent to which he's abandoned his curveball.
Oh, and another thing. Here's a pitch from April 9th:
That's the only swing and miss Tim Lincecum had on a curveball all season until Tuesday night.
Again, this is not made up! Fifty-nine curveballs before the Blue Jays came to town. One swing and a miss. So it's not like the Giants were ignoring a secret weapon that was covered up in the barn. Lincecum hasn't felt comfortable with his curve in a while, and it showed.
For some reason, he was all curveballs on Tuesday. And it worked beautifully. Of the 31 curves he threw tonight, 17 went for strikes. Three were swings and misses.
And I'm no Don Raghette here, but maybe there's something about the curveball that helps him get on top of his other pitches -- the more he throws the curve, the more he throws his fastball for strikes. That kind of thing. Just an unsupported theory.
I really want to know the difference between this game and the ones before it. What was Lincecum doing better? What has he been doing wrong? Tim Lincecum is a riddle in a dream, and we're feverishly muttering the answer to ourselves right after we wake up, trying not to forget it. It's so clear for a few seconds, and then the answer never makes it out of the waking fog. Always so close to understanding it. But we'll never get there.
Maybe he's been the just as good the whole time. According to FanGraphs and FIP, Lincecum's season breaks down like this:
- Four stellar starts
- Three good starts
- Three iffy starts
- One tire fire
It's even rosier if you use xFIP. According to that stat, this was Lincecum's eighth outstanding start of the year. No reason to worry, everyone! xFIP is here!
Did it feel like Lincecum had three iffy starts and one tire fire surrounded by good starts before Tuesday? Heck no. His season was a tire fire, and the iffy starts were the ones that made you optimistic. But maybe he was just unlucky. You know, like we thought last year before he depressed us into submission. It's a game like this that makes you feel like all he's needed has been a little command and a little luck.
A little luck like a 190-m.p.h. line drive into the glove of Pablo Sandoval that was tossed out of the give of Marco Scutaro that somehow turned into a double play while Alfonso Marquez was thinking about the porcine imagery of Upstream Color or how to beat the water temple in Ocarina of Time or why we have belly buttons or if Catcher in the Rye is ever going to be made into a movie or whatever in the absolute hell Alfonso Marquez thinks about when he's supposed to be watching Marco Scutaro drop the ball. That kind of luck.
If that luck were presented by the baseball gods to me in the form of a token, I would have spent that token on Tim Lincecum. And it worked. He was stellar, and when he needed the ball to find a mitt, the ball found a mitt. He was also very good. He pitched tonight, if I may get bold with the #analysis. He pitched like a guy with a plan and the ability to execute on that plan. It's been a while.
Pretty sure that I'm done expecting anything good, bad, or indifferent from Lincecum in the future. I'll just react to the starts rather than expect anything. It's less exhausting that way. But for a night in San Francisco, Tim Lincecum was an excellent pitcher. We're not saying that enough these days, but it's pretty good to say when you get the chance.