As a Giants fan, I've been hard on Tim Lincecum over the last two-plus years. There's no pride that goes along with that sentence. There's a little shame, but not as much as you might think. Sports are inherently irrational, and sports fans generally can't remember anything past the last five minutes. This hitter is the worst, this pitcher is the best, this manager is the worst ever. It's why Giants fans felt like they could complain in 2011, and it's why other people hated us for it.
The devolution of TIM LINCECUM to Tim Lincecum has been tough to watch. I'm sure it's been tough to live, for Lincecum. The name and the history is what got him two year's worth of rope compared to, say, Todd Wellemeyer, with whom everyone was fed up by May, but the name is also why you couldn't let go of the dream -- that one day he'd be, if not just as good, an excellent pitcher again.
About two starts ago, I was ready for the experiment to end. I was tired of watching the 0-2 doubles and the 1-2 homers, the first-inning walks and the first-inning runs. I wasn't sure if the bullpen was the answer, but I knew -- just knew -- that the rotation wasn't going to be the answer.
This no-hitter doesn't mean that Lincecum's good again, that he's going to be a solid contributor for the rest of his Giants career. It doesn't mean anything but nine innings and no hits. Except it's a glimpse at what Tim Lincecum can do when he knows where the ball is going. When he has his command and four pitches, the number of pitches thrown is a better indicator of his success than the number on the speed gun. He pitched much, much better than he did in his first no-hitter. He threw better in the Petco no-hitter, striking more fools out, but in this one, he pitched.
That's no guarantee that he'll pitch five or 10 days from now, much less in 2015, but it was a nifty teaser trailer for an alternate reality that could exist one day. Here's what Tim Lincecum looks like with plus command. That's what the no-hitter screamed. The mechanics responsible for the plus command are probably responsible for the snappy breaking stuff, too. It's almost certainly not a coincidence.
You can go through a list of Cy Young winners and pick out pitchers that reinvented themselves after winning the award -- David Cone and Bartolo Colon stick out, certainly. Let's focus on Colon, though. For the first five years of his career, until he was 28, he couldn't throw strikes. He could throw hard, and he could miss bats, but his walk rates were below-average. He improved in that regard and became a semi-star, suffering ups-and-downs until winning the Cy Young with the 2005 Angels.
Then he disappeared. He couldn't throw more than 100 innings in a season, bouncing from organization to organization, and then he left the game entirely after 2009. It happens. Pitchers just disappear.
Except he reappeared, helping the Yankees first, and then making an All-Star team last year with the A's. He didn't have the raw stuff he used to. He looked like an extra on Dinosaurs. He didn't have the raw stuff of a third-round pick, but he had command. He made the transformation from flame-throwing youngster to corner-nibbling elder statesman.
Lincecum with Colon's command would rule the world, even if he's pitching at 90-92. This isn't to say that Lincecum is now Colon, or that this no-hitter portends great things. It's not about momentum or turning points. It's just a reminder that we're not stupid to dream. It's about looking at what this cat can do with his fastball when it goes where he wants it to. Look at how flummoxed the other team was. Looooook. Those FIP-teasing strikeout rates still hint at something dormant and beautiful.
It's one thing to lean back, toothpick in mouth, and say, "You know, I'll bet you this Lincecum kid would be good again if he had excellent command." Yeah, way to add to the conversation, dingus. But it's another thing to watch Lincecum pitch like that. Now you can dream big and not feel silly about it. That's why I enjoyed this no-hitter more than the first one. That one came from a pitcher with lightning bolts shooting out of his fingers, and he was just as confused as the rest of us as to exactly what he should do.
This one was a pitcher with a plan, and he executed that plan better than almost any other pitcher on this planet could ever hope to do. It hasn't been fun to watch Lincecum pitch all the time over the past two seasons. Probably because he was saving the fun for a concentrated blast like this.
Will Lincecum ever be a good starting pitcher again? I can't answer that. There's too much cloudy baseball between here and the answer. But at least we know what it will look like if it happens.
It'll look like that.