Lincecum finds form on game's biggest stage
Righty's relief work helps nail down Game 3 win, 3-0 Series lead
DETROIT -- If there was any doubt, Tim Lincecum has been able to dig in deep to excel again in the World Series, even though his role is much different than it was two years ago."It's come around for me. It came around just in time," a giddy Lincecum said on Saturday night. "Could it have happened at a better time?"
No, it couldn't. For the second time in three games, the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner came on in relief of a Giants starter and turned the Tigers into kittens. This time it was in Game 3 for Ryan Vogelsong. In Game 1, it was Barry Zito.The result was a 2-0 San Francisco victory and a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Series that could end right here at Comerica Park in Game 4 on Sunday night, and this time, Lincecum turned in 2 1/3 innings of flawless work out of the 'pen.
Remarkable in relief
|Goose Gossage||NYY||1981||0-0||14 1/3||0||4||15||0.00|
|Mariano Rivera||NYY||1998||0-0||13 1/3||0||2||11||0.00|
|Tom Hall||Cin.||1972||1-0||15 2/3||1||5||15||0.57|
|Andy Hawkins||S.D.||1984||1-1||15 2/3||1||8||5||0.57|
|Mariano Rivera||NYY||1996||1-0||14 1/3||1||5||10||0.63|
|Mike Jackson||Cle.||1997||1-0||13 1/3||1||5||16||0.68|
Despite the immediate success, Giants manager Bruce Bochy affirmed that bullpen duty for Lincecum is only a temporary move."It just so happened that it worked out," Bochy said. "We thought he could really help us in the bullpen, where he's done an amazing job. But he's a starter, and that's what he's going to do next year. When you have the talent that he has, it's nice to have the ability to go either way. It's nice to have that weapon helping us in the bullpen now. But I assure you, he's going to be in the rotation next year." On Saturday night, Lincecum faced nine batters, walking one, striking out three and throwing 32 pitches. His composite for two World Series relief appearances is 4 2/3 innings, 16 batters faced, eight strikeouts and the walk. Coupled with his victories in Games 1 and 5 of the 2010 World Series -- which the Giants won in five games over the Rangers -- Lincecum is now 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his four appearances. "It's not surprising at all," said Vogelsong, who ran his record this postseason to 3-0 after winning his first World Series start. "He's been throwing the ball great. But what sticks out the most to me, when the lights come on in the biggest stage, is that he's showed everybody what he's truly about. "He's thrown the ball unbelievable this whole postseason out of the bullpen. And you've got to tip your hat to him, because he could have been upset about going to the bullpen, and not one second did you ever see that from him. He just went down there and came out firing BBs, and he's been really impressive." To be sure, no one was certain how this grand postseason experiment was going to turn out. After Lincecum suffered through a 10-15 regular season with a 5.18 ERA, Bochy and his staff -- plus general manager Brian Sabean -- opted to relegate the right-hander to the bullpen.
Lincecum has made six appearances this postseason, and his worst one by far was his only start, a Game 4 loss in the NL Championship Series to the Cardinals, which happens to be San Francisco's last defeat. The Giants have won six in a row since then.Lincecum decided to pitch solely from the stretch during this period to correct some mechanical flaws in his delivery. But it's also obvious that Lincecum has the right temperament to adjust to the shift in roles. "Any time we make a decision like this, we're all involved," Bochy said when asked to explain how the decision to put Lincecum in the 'pen came about. "We were all in agreement this was the way to go. I think when you look at the years that the guys have had and who would be better at adjusting to go into the bullpen, it just made sense to put Timmy there and help us out in those middle innings. And he's done an incredible job." Lincecum is not accustomed to that assignment. He has made 189 regular-season appearances in his six-year big league career, 188 of them starts. In recent days, Bochy and Sabean have said that it might take the offseason and all of Spring Training to implement the changes Lincecum needs to make to get back to throwing like the starter who compiled a 69-41 record during his first five seasons in San Francisco's rotation. But the numbers right now don't lie. This October, Lincecum is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA in his one start, and 1-0 with an 0.69 ERA as a reliever in 13 innings over five appearances. "Right now, the bullpen role is for the World Series, and that's my mindset," Lincecum said. "I think that's what everybody's mindset is. I'm just going to be out there as a safety net kind of thing, and if I can pick up innings here and there in these games, that's what I'm there to do." No matter. Lincecum has picked up some pretty significant innings, and with the Giants' second World Series championship in two years on the line, he has certainly picked up his game. "He's making a comeback," said Felipe Alou, the former Giants player and manager who is now a consultant in the organization. "It's the playoffs and World Series. There's a little extra incentive there. It's the time to turn it on. We all know how good he is. I'm looking forward to next year. He'll win a bunch of games. He'll probably win 20 next year."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.