In the fourth inning, Tim Lincecum loaded the bases with no outs. That's when the season truly ended. They used dental records to identify the Giants' postseason hopes. It was a good run, a good run.
Then Lincecum struck out two batters and induced an inning-ending grounder. Look, I'm aware of the cognitive biases, here, and I get our brains are wired to look for patterns. But danged if I didn't see a pep in their step afterward. The quick cuts to the dugout didn't show players who looked like they just watched Requiem for a Dream on acid. We got used to that look. Instead, when hitters reached base, they pointed back to the dugout, excited. Let's go, dammit. June is over. Let's go.
When Pablo Sandoval hit his dinger -- the first home run of 2014 for the Giants -- he was jazzed going around the bases. It was his 100th career homer, so maybe that had something to do with it, but I've never seen a player care about a 100th career homer before. It seemed more like a demonstrative response to the Giants scoring runs, glorious runs. It was the exact opposite of the body language that would have been offered after Lincecum gave up a bases-clearing double in the fourth.
That double never came. Instead, everything came up Milhouse, and the Giants looked like they had ditched the evil spirits. Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag. When Sandoval was rounding the bases, when Lincecum was coming off the mound, when Hunter Pence was making a brilliant catch in Triples Alley, they looked like a team that really thought June was the problem.
The bad news: That pep in the step is a five-run first away from vanishing. June wasn't the problem. That's ridiculous. Bad baseball was the problem. June is a month. Months don't have any secret powers. The Giants played good baseball instead of bad baseball this time, so they were happier. Don't look for momentum within the dark void of baseball.
Still, I'm a believer. I have anecdotes on my side. The Giants started the day in second place, behind the Dodgers. They ended the day in first place, ahead of the Dodgers. And you're telling me momentum doesn't exist?
It probably doesn't exist in a way that dorks like me can quantify, but first place, suckers, first place! We've been down for so long.
Back when Tim Lincecum was a new phenomenon, early in his first Cy Young season, there was a published article with quotes from an anonymous scout. I'll never find it -- don't know if it was a big site or little site, don't know the exact phrasing -- but the scout said something like, "Lincecum will never have good command. His delivery is such that he'll never have the proper balance when he comes home with the pitch." It was an oddly specific complaint of Lincecum's delivery, even by scout standards. Then Lincecum won multiple trophies and other trophies, and I never forgot to laugh at poor ol' Anonymous Scout.
Except, once the 97 mph left, I think Anonymous Scout was onto something. Draftniks were worried about Lincecum's size, and his funky mechanics were an issue because of health concerns. This guy/gal was saying, what if he doesn't have any command? Then, suddenly, Lincecum stopped pretending like he had command. Hits were loud. Lincecum had no idea where the ball was going. It was weird. It was ugly.
Over the last two starts, which is a sample size of several hundred pitches, Lincecum looks like he knows where the ball is going. We can all pick out the balls that should have been crushed -- Matt Adams had one in the first, for example -- but you can usually do that with any pitcher. There's always a hanger or three. If you assume those are coming, Lincecum looked like a pitcher who knew what he was doing.
I don't think there's a person alive waiting for Cy Young Lincecum to come back. But if we can get FIP Lincecum for the first time, the guy who pitches well enough, considering his strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed, we'll all be giddy. That would be a pitcher who helps his team win. Then factor in the warm San Francisco fuzzies we all feel for the guy, and ...
Well, I'm optimistic. If only because the pessimism of the last month is a total drag.
The control comes and goes, and so does the stuff. I used to think this was a chicken/egg thing, except it's more of a Bruce Wayne/Batman thing. They're the same person. The control and the crisp breaking balls, the changeups that go where they're supposed to, why, they're related. It's all about mechanics, and where most pitchers are screwing around on a simple '67 Bug, Lincecum has always had to deal with the propulsion engine of a Tralfamadorian space ship.
Lincecum has a 17-inning scoreless streak, you know. And the last run scored was Paul Goldschmidt, which shouldn't really count.
This brings us to the real point: The Giants faced a pitcher they had never seen, and they won a game in which they were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Seems important to remember for the next time Codin Scobel no-hits the Giants for five innings in Petco.