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5 years ago, Tim Lincecum pitched his last great game that wasn’t a no-hitter

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It gave a lot of people hope for his future.

Milwaukee Brewers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Here we go. Five years ago today, Tim Lincecum pitched his last incredible game that wasn’t a no-hitter. Using Bill James’ Game Score, which you can read more about here, but in short is defined as —

Game score is a metric created by Bill James to judge a starting pitcher’s effectiveness in a single game. It uses a system of pluses and minuses to create a score. A score of 50 is considered an average outing. Scores of 0 or below, or 100 or greater are extremely rare.

here are the top 5 starts (regular season) of Tim Lincecum’s career:

96 | 7-13-2013 @ San Diego - no hitter #1
92 | 6-25-2014 vs. San Diego - no hitter #2
91 | 6-29-2009 @ St. Louis
88 | 9-13-2008 @ San Diego
87 | 7-27-2009 vs. Pittsburgh - career high 15 strikeouts
| 5-21-2011 vs. Oakland
| 8-8-2013 vs. Milwaukee

A bit of a cheat in that it was a three-way tie for 5th place, but as you can see, this was it... just before the no-hitter. The Giants defeated the Brewers 4-1 in a series finale at AT&T Park. Lincecum pitched 8 innings, struck out 8, walked one and gave up one hit.

Brandon Belt was hero #2:

This was Lincecum’s fourth start after that first no hitter in San Diego, and it got a lot of attention mainly because he started throwing his curveball more.

USA Today wrote a little bit about the game and shed some light on a possible adjustment Lincecum had made following the no-hitter:

Nearly a month after his first career no-hitter, Lincecum pitched another gem. The right-hander allowed only one hit over eight scoreless innings to lead the San Francisco Giants past the Milwaukee Brewers 4-1 Thursday.

”I think I’m just trying to stay within myself,” Lincecum said, adding that he relied on his overhand curve more than he had in any start this year. “I know I’m not going to throw a 95 mph fastball anymore, so why try to throw it? I guess I got to use what I got and get outs.”

The start generated a lot of thoughts about Tim Lincecum’s evolution. Here’s a random YouTube video that compares his pitching mechanics —

Not how they didn’t change, so why was he having a bit more success after being down for a bit? It might just be a change in pitch selection.

Grant wrote in his recap:

Lincecum’s comeback after the setback after the comeback means even more to me, for some reason. If Brian Sabean’s explanation was accurate -- that the Giants didn’t receive a single trade offer for Lincecum worth responding to, much less engaging at all -- this is the kind of game that makes you thrilled the Giants held onto him.

Imagine Lincecum having this exact start with the Braves tomorrow. I would have rooted for him, of course. But it would have been one of the most bittersweet moments of the past 10 years, if not 20, to see Lincecum rise out of the ashes in a different uniform.

As such, games like Thursday’s are something of a best-case scenario. Let’s watch Lincecum at his best for maybe one of the last times in a Giants uniform. Or, even better, let him work his way back into the Giants’ plans by pitching solidly over the last two months. I’d like him back at the qualifying offer, sure, but even if he doesn’t want that, I’m not sure if there are any four- or five-year deals out there for him. The best offer might actually come from the Giants. I’ve assumed Lincecum was gone for the past year, but what if he has a mini-resurgence? That might make both sides amenable to rekindling the romance.

And the morning after the start, Chris Quick wrote on this site:

If your curveball makes someone lose their helmet, it’s a good curveball.

As funny as it sounds, it’s possible that Lincecum still might be learning how to pitch without top-shelf velocity. If the end of this season teaches him some skills that he can use to be successful in 2014, then I’m for it. A craftier, curveballier Lincecum is probably a good thing for everyone. Maybe even the Giants, because the team is sure to extend a qualifying offer to Lincecum at end of this season. Consider the remainder of this season an experimental lab of what a successful Tim Lincecum might look like in the future.

In the span of a month, Lincecum threw a no-hitter and seemingly adjusted his approach and as a result, may have induced the Giants into offering him a 2-year $35 million extension. You wouldn’t necessarily gather that from the rest of his 2013 line —

— but the Giants had hope. He had too much success and freakish talent to simply give up on, not when he still showed flashes. Of course, he would have only one other 80+ game score for the rest of his career, that no hitter against the Padres in June 2014, and that contract extension wound up providing more sentimental and season ticket holder value than actual on the field value —

— but on this day five years ago, Tim Lincecum’s future prospects felt exciting, and there was data to back up that hope.