From A Goat to A Hero in 148 Pitches
“Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”
— Ernie Harwell, Hall of Fame Broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers
As a longtime baseball fan, I’ve often spent time pondering this very notion, that baseball is an awful lot like life. I have even written yards of stories and words on this very topic. After watching thousands of games, I personally believe that across the nature of nine innings of baseball, in each and every game, a story is told.
One of the most curiously fascinating concepts to me is that a player can make a terrible error in one inning (thus making him the goat) and then be the hero of the game in the very next inning.
Local broadcaster Mike Krukow has often commented that it’s just an unwritten fact of baseball, the guy who bobbles the ball in one inning is going to be at bat the next inning. Or, the guy who made a spectacular catch will also be up in the next inning.
It’s an odd philosophy but I’ve observed that it is pretty spot on. Baseball with all of its flaws and issues is an awfully democratic game. Second chances are given. Third, fourth and fifth chances too. The player who is a super star can slip into an 0 for 42 slump. That guy who can’t seem to hit a damn thing can suddenly make a key play that propels him to a 40 for 42 streak.
You just never know. And that is pretty much like life.
It was with this in mind that I joyfully watched a guy on a real bad downswing named Tim Lincecum, who plays for the San Francisco Giants, complete a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
Tim burst on the baseball scene in 2007 as a first round draft pick. Everything about him does not scream baseball. He is a very small person, running about 5’11” on a day he’s standing up very straight and clocking in at maybe 170 pound soaking wet. He is an unlikely pitcher compared to the usual broad shouldered and well over six-footers that dominate the mound.
In addition, Tim’s delivery style is rather unique and eyebrow raising among followers of Major League Baseball. In order to get speed from his small frame, he contorts and twists his body back and delivers a pitch with a whipsaw motion. This delivery and his ability to baffle quality hitters has earned him the nickname “The Freak.”
As no major league batter had ever seen this kind of delivery, Lincecum dominated MLB for his first several seasons, racking up two Cy Young awards, several trips to the All Star Game, and much respect.
But as baseball is the great equalizer, major league hitters began to get used to how Tim pitched. They watched hours of tape and they started to work him out. Suddenly the phenom fell to earth and his pitching was not so freakish anymore. He was, as they say, getting “touched up” pretty regularly.
Over about three years, Lincecum has struggled mightily, and last year in the post season leading to the World Series, he was taken out of the starting rotation and placed in the bullpen. This is an ego bruiser for even the most easygoing of pitcher.
But Tim took it in stride, pitched well in relief and helped the team win the 2012 World Series.
This season, Lincecum has been showing marked improvement, but his teammates are batting so poorly in support of his outings that his record looks dismal. His quality outings have been a bright spot in a pretty terrible season for the San Francisco Giants.
Recently everyone (especially this Giants fan) has been wondering if this is the end of the era of Tim Lincecum.
So it was unlikely to see our small Mr. Lincecum on the mound pitching for his life on Saturday night. He worked his way through all nine innings and threw 148 pitches to close out his first no-hitter.
To be honest, I felt certain he’d throw a no-hitter in the first few years of his career, his stuff was that baffling. But in many ways, it has to be almost more satisfying to have been a phenom, then struggle, then battle back to show Major League Baseball that maybe the era isn’t ending, but simply starting a new chapter.
What a great story. What an amazing game. What an accomplishment.
Lately I have been wavering a little in my allegiance to the San Francisco Giants, as they have been playing sloppy baseball and embarrassing themselves left and right. I was becoming bored with this season’s story. Saturday night I turned the page and a new chapter filled with twists and turns greeted me. I’m now back in the game.
Thank you, Mr. Lincecum, for winning back my heart and mind and for telling me, a storyteller in my own right, one hell of a tale.
Another priceless moment from that no hitter game: A pitch accidentally hits the umpire in the gut, right at the bottom of his chest protector. Ow. Watch Lincecum’s reaction. Awesome.
Image from Wikipedia and used under a Creative Commons 2.0 licensing agreement with attribution.
Footage belongs to MLB, .gif was found here.