LOS ANGELES – After Tim Lincecum walked seven batters and got away with it, after he slid through greased bars to complete five innings and after the handshakes that accompanied a 5-3 win and a series victory at Dodger Stadium Wednesday night, Dave Righetti found his former ace and took him aside.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Pablo, Pence power Giants to win]
“Take it. Just take it,” the Giants’ seasoned pitching coach told Lincecum. “I don’t know how many games in six years you didn’t get wins when maybe you should’ve. So you take this one. Don’t feel bad about it. Take the win.”
“And he earned it,” Righetti continued, as he stepped into loafers for the flight home. “Oh, he has some stuff to overcome. But this one, he’s just got to take it and feel good about it.”
No, Lincecum did not pitch with laser-guided accuracy. He scattered buckshot at the Dodgers while allowing 10 baserunners in five innings. But for all the twisting and turning in his gymnastic delivery, there was no bend at the waist. There were no sagging shoulders.
Sure, Lincecum might have gotten lucky a time or three while holding the Dodgers to 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. This was just one start. The results will bear out over time. But whether he conjured something extra in those situations or not, he did not look defeated on the mound.
That, more than his 5.18 ERA or any other number on the stat page, is what most alarmed the Giants last season.
That’s why, on a night that Lincecum once again played with fire, Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn’t hesitate to describe the outing in glowing terms.
“Great effort,” Bochy said. “He was a little off at times but he competed so well and made pitches when he had to. He got in jams and had to work around them.”
Told of those comments, Lincecum latched onto one word.
“I felt today I was more competing than pitching,” he said. “I wasn’t hitting my spots that well. I knew it would come down to a grind and just leaving it on the field.”
It was telling that Bochy, and not Righetti, double-timed it to the mound in the fifth inning after Lincecum issued his seventh walk to match his career high. He needed one more out to qualify for the victory. I asked Bochy: Did you tell Lincecum he was down to his last hitter?
“No,” Bochy said. “I had to check on him. The pitches were getting up there. He was adamant he was good.”
And Bochy believed him. That is what good managers do when a two-time Cy Young winner makes his first start of the season. You show a little faith. You build a little capital. More than likely, you’ll need it later. Bochy certainly did last October, when he put Lincecum in the bullpen – a move that many statured pitchers would’ve taken as an ego-bruising demotion.
Lincecum got the pop-up he needed to finish the fifth inning. And after a couple of clutch pitches from relievers George Kontos and Chad Gaudin, he is 1-0.
“It shows you he’s got the ability to keep his poise and not let things go awry,” Bochy said. “It did last year. So that’s a great sign, to see him do what he did tonight.”
The Dodgers, as mentioned, were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. A year ago, hitters posted a .328 average and .424 on-base percentage in what baseball-reference.com computed as “high leverage” plate appearances.
In other words…
“The next guy would get a hit,” Righetti said.
This time, the Dodgers didn’t.
Last season, Lincecum would look so hard to find positives in a slop-pail start. This time, he acknowledged “a lackluster win.”
“I was thinking a little too much out there,” said Lincecum, who had a 10.57 ERA this spring. “Next time, it’s about taking that out of the equation and just trusting my stuff. … I felt like I could’ve pitched a lot better. Obviously, the walks will tell you. It’s just throwing strikes, really.”
One of the thoughts that went through his mind was a familiar one, and it was just as horned and deadly as a demon: “You see things going south and … “
This time, Lincecum didn’t let that train of thought continue. He didn’t quit on himself. There is a victory to take in that, too.
“Absolutely. You kidding?" said Righetti, asked if he liked the way Lincecum competed. "It’s huge. This is a process – a long process. Nothing’s perfect and this isn’t a light switch deal. We’re trying to take steps here and we’ll see where he’s at.
“For right now, I’m sure he’s feeling good. And he should.”