The tricky thing about being a fan of a baseball team and being a reasonable human being is how to manage our emotions when it comes to the performances of the players for whom we cheer. We've known Tim Lincecum for a long time now, as a human being, as a player on the Giants, and a pitcher in Major League Baseball. And yet we don't know him, and our perception of him is largely influenced by how we feel about him, and for a long time now our feelings have been tied to his performance on the mound -- specifically, how often he has been erratic, inconsistent, and sometimes outright terrible.
And so tonight we are witness to a near-catharsis. Tim Lincecum's 148-pitch no hitter served many masters: our long-standing expectations of The Freak, a dying team in need of a glimmer of hope, and most importantly, a pitcher who knew he still had it in him but hadn't quite proved it to himself, his fans, or his naysayers. If you think Tim Lincecum didn't need this, then I'd accuse you of being completely out of touch with a competitive mindset. A no-hitter is not a perfect game, of course, but it is a stunning accomplishment for a pitcher and it is yet another one for Lincecum to add to his resume, mantle, or heck, even his self-esteem. It has to feel good for him to know that he still has "it" and can still do something amazing on a baseball field. This was a guy who couldn't be counted on to start a baseball game approximately nine months ago, and now this.
The Giants played like champions tonight. On a smaller scale, they simply played like a "good" team. This start continues a string of strong starts (yes, im including the 10 hit affair versus the Dodgers) from Lincecum as well. Hunter Pence had two back-spinny hits, one of them a home run, and Posey and Sandoval were dominant in the middle of the lineup. Oh yeah, and that shiftless layabout Brandon Belt destroyed a middle-in fastball. This was a satisfying night all around, but it is a night that belongs to Tim Lincecum, even more than it belongs to his teammates or even to us.
You see, Tim Lincecum's career is at a crossroads. Is he going to be a terrible starter, a dominant reliever, or simply out of baseball two years from now? Do the Giants trade him to the Tigers as a reliever, does he sign with a team as a back-end starter in free agency this off season, or does he retire to the Pot Hills of Estonia? This is what we thought about when the subject of Tim Lincecum came up. He went from Freak to bleak in what seemed like no time at all. My very first post-game recap was of his disastrous first start of the year in Colorado last season. Everything has pointed to an ending for him, either in San Francisco or baseball in general.
Instead, tonight is a reminder that greatness is always looming, particularly where immensely talented people are involved. We are often down, but never out, not if we keep striving for what we want. Tim Lincecum could've listened to the naysayers, could've packed it in and cashed his checks, could've become a toxic presence in a chemistry-dependent clubhouse, but we have never known Lincecum to be that way, and tonight we have been reminded that he is still that Tim Lincecum, still the pitcher with the best stuff in the rotation, still someone the Giants can count on.
The Giants have won three games in a row as a result of Tim Lincecum's first no-hitter. In-season comebacks have started with less fanfare, but as I'm high on performance-fueled optimism (including Hunter Pence's accomplishment-saving catch) I am going to be ridiculous and declare this the turning point in the Giants' season. It is not the defining moment of Timmy's career, but it is a pivotal moment in his future. As has often been the case, as Timmy goes, so go the Giants.