This was the fourth start of the season in which Tim Lincecum didn't allow a run. He had just four of those starts all last year. But with the first three scoreless starts this year, there was always a "Well, actually" that went along with it. And it was my responsibility, as a computer-bound dork who focuses on tiny details, to run up breathlessly and yell, "Well, actually, his location was off, and the other team missed a lot of hittable pitches." There was always something to quibble with, some portent of doom, even in the good Lincecum starts.
His start on Wednesday night was not one of those starts. This was not a well, actually. This was probably as good as Lincecum can pitch now, give or take a few whiffs, and it's possibly the best start he's had since last July, at least. If Lincecum is unable to crack 90 in some of his starts, this is how he'll succeed. Fastballs up, soft stuff down, rarely screwing things up with pitches right down the middle.
There were hanging curveballs and fastballs that caught a little too much of the plate, but they were the exceptions, thrown just as often as you might expect from a normal pitcher in the middle of an excellent start. He put the ball where Andrew Susac wanted it, hinting again that all he needs to do is hit his spots to be effective. Which is like saying, "All I need to make a good movie is a million dollars and a brilliant screenplay," but still. This was a scene from that screenplay, and it made you laugh. You would keep reading.
My favorite Lincecum play of the night: Alex Guerrero, who was Josh Donaldson for two weeks before he was Joaquin Arias, hit a comebacker to Lincecum on the first pitch of the seventh inning. Lincecum, with layers and layers of cool and I-got-this underneath his tiny little mustache, flipped the ball to first, arcing it high into the air before Posey was at the bag. It was a breezy confidence we're not used to seeing, at least not in the last four seasons. And he was right. He did have that. He had the whole game. You could rewrite "It Was a Good Day" with game-specific lyrics. Got Adrian Gonzalez chasing above the zone. Didn't even care that Angel Hernandez was calling strikes. Everything was working.
According to FanGraphs, Lincecum's FIP is 3.29, which would be a delightful turnaround. Of course, his xFIP has him at 4.21, and xFIP -- which assumes that all pitchers are going to give up some dingers -- was kind of made for a season like Lincecum's. No, he probably isn't going to allow just one homer all season. That's not quite sustainable.
The ERA, though, is 2.08. And that's what I care about, not because it's predictive or instructive, but because our beautiful dream of Lincecum in the All-Star Game again is thriving. Last year's reserves were announced on July 6, which means he has about, gulp, nine starts left, including one in Colorado, before the team is picked. If there's a little regression to the mean, it'll be tough.
I believe in him. Kind of. More than that, his manager believes in him, and that's the guy who gets to pick the pitchers. It would be a touching, trolling story.
Until then, just note that Lincecum pitched his best game of the year, and he did it against the Dodgers in front of 42,000 people who love him so. That's a good night.
Percentage of hard-hit balls from Brandon Crawford, by year
It's getting to the point where I'm forgetting to bring him up. "Oh, right. A couple of important hits from Brandon Crawford off a lefty. Should probably mention that."
My only complaint about Baseball-Reference.com: You can't search for home runs hit into a delirious mist, carried high and far and into the stands, cutting through the moisture and cold air, hit hard enough to overcome nature's foul scheme. I tried, like, six times. No dice. As far as I'm concerned, it was the first one. Think I would have remembered the others.
Here's what it looked like:
I can't find the ball. Neither could the camera operator. Somehow, that made it even more compelling, figuring out the ball was leaving the park by the way the outfielders pulled up in realization. There's no way a homer should have been hit on that kind of night, just no way. Hands up if you figured there would be a Dodger settling underneath it when the camera cut away.
Watching it again, though, the bat had the sound. The crowd had the sound. All that was left was for AT&T and San Francisco to let the hell up, just a little bit. And that's how we got to see a dinger disappear into the dinger mist, something that's almost as good as Roy Hobbs hitting the light tower, for some reason.
I WILL CATCH THE BASEBALL.
I DID NOT CATCH THE BASEBALL.
HOWEVER! I HAVE AN IDEA. WHAT IF I PRETEND THAT I CAUGHT THE BASEBALL AND PULL A CLEVER TRICK ON EVERYONE?
HEY, EVERYONE, I JUST CAUGHT A BASEBALL. YOUR HELMETED COLLEAGUE IS OUT UNDER THE RULES AND BYLAWS OF YOUR GAME.
One of the best/worst sell-jobs I've ever, ever, ever seen. And it came in the era of instant replay!
When you've spent your entire life training and working hard to be one of the 1000 best baseball players in the world, and someone who's much better than you starts showing off.