SAN FRANCISCO – Tim Lincecum laughed as soon as he stepped in the batter’s box. He kept grinning through the first pitch of his at-bat. And then the next one. And the next one.
He wore a bemused expression all the way through his strike three swing and his walk to the dugout, and it wasn’t just the 4-0 lead the Giants spotted him in the first inning that had him in a mood.
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Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez passed along a quick message – “Steve Englert said `what’s up,” – and that brought back a flood of memories. Englert, who coached Sanchez at Boston College, was Lincecum’s manager with Harwich in the Cape Cod League.
“I was just thinking about all those memories, good times,” said Lincecum, after the Giants' 6-3 victory. “We had a lot of fun.”
Lincecum has enjoyed his share of fun here at AT&T Park, too. There are two Cy Young Awards, two World Series championships, hair that sometimes required a rubber band to tame it, MGMT songs on full blast, F-bombs dropped on live TV and a 148-pitch no-hitter that turned an ordinary Saturday night in San Diego into stanzas of baseball poetry that will be recited for decades.
This was a Saturday night, against the Pirates, when he mixed brilliance with bouts of wildness – and walked off to one more thunderous ovation. He was not satisfied with handing over the baseball in the sixth inning with two baserunners for the bullpen to manage. He did not feel he deserved the cheers.
But he heard them. He always hears them.
“Of course I do,” said Lincecum, who will be a free agent in a little more than five weeks. “It’s hard not to, especially here. They definitely have a knack for making players loved here. I’ve known that for years.”
Will it make Lincecum less likely to notice greener grass? Could moments like Saturday night’s standing ovation keep him smiling all the way through to a new contract, and the same locker next season?
“Well, definitely,” he said. “This organization as a whole and what it represents, it has a lot of familiarity with me, as well as the fan base. That’s been without saying the last seven years.
“It’ll definitely play into the decision when the time comes.”
The qualifying offer might be an even bigger factor. The Giants already have signaled their intention to make one to Lincecum, which should be in the area of $13.5 million on a one-year contract. He has preferred to stay on short-term contracts, but even if he didn’t accept it, the offer would make his free agency a little less free. If another team signs him, they would forfeit a first-round draft pick.
Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn are two players who had to sign in spring training, largely because they had been extended qualifying offers. And they were coming off good years. Lincecum is in his second season of maddening inconsistency as a starter, although by and large he is a better pitcher than in 2012.
Perhaps another two-year structure – something in the $30 million range? – would work well for both parties. It would be Lincecum’s third consecutive two-year contract. And while it’d be a pay cut, the average annual value would remain much higher than Lincecum’s perceived value on the open market.
The Giants have never had a problem overpaying their stars or bidding against themselves to keep them. See Bonds, Barry.
This much remains certain: Lincecum, despite being 7-14 and winning for just the second time in seven starts since his no-hitter July 13, retains his pied-piper following on the shores of McCovey Cove.
“Well, it’s well deserved,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Just look what he’s done. It says a lot about our fans to stay behind these guys. It’s easy to be behind them when it’s going good. Believe me, we appreciate it, because it’s been a rough year.”
Lincecum is down to his final six starts as a Giant, if he remains on turn. Just two of them would come at AT&T Park.
Whatever happens, he can think back and laugh at the memories. The good times.
They had a lot of fun, that’s for sure.