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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Giants' Notebook: 'Old School' Lincecum eats up A's


  • Tim Lincecum apparently takes pride in the the Bay Area rivalry: Three of his eight career complete games and two of his five lifetime shutouts have been against the Oakland A's.
  • Lincecum has given up only three earned runs in his last 42 innings against the A's, an 0.64 ERA, with a 5-0 mark in that time.
  • Lincecum's 133 pitches Saturday were not a career high: he'd thrown 138 pitches in a shutout over San Diego on Sept. 13, 2008. Since then, he'd thrown 120 pitches or more 10 times. In this day of  pitch count protection, Lincecum got the greatest compliment from Boss Bochy, who called him  "old school."
Still, he needs to throw 150 pitches or more to qualify as truly old school. See Juan Marichal vs. Warren Spahn, 16 inning classic, 1963. Marichal threw more than 200 pitches because he wasn't going to be outdone by the 42-year old future Hall of Famer, who threw 276 pitches that game.
  • In the meantime, A's Manager Bob Geren had a strange explanation of why he took Brett Anderson out after only five innings in a 1-0 game. He said he was "done" after 91 pitches. I guess that means he'd run out of gas. But the guy is a horse at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, and he was pitching in cool San Francisco weather. No follow up questions, guys in the press box? Like, was Anderson fighting a flu? Or, did he have a bad night sleep? Why was he "done" after 91 pitches?
Anderson has been fairly resilient (by modern standards), averaging 105 pitches in nine starts. Only twice had he not reached 100 pitches, and those were in poor outings.

Maybe it was that Brett Anderson couldn't stand the heat against the Giants' ace. I don't know. If I'm a professional pitcher and I'm going up against the best, I don't beg out after five innings and 91 pitches. Or, I don't let my manager baby me.

Geren faced some heat for lifting Trevor Cahill for a pinch hitter in a 1-1 tie in the sixth of Friday night's game. But that was a little more understandable: the A's had the go-ahead run at third with two outs, and only a brilliant, diving stop and throw from second baseman Freddie Sanchez on Conor Jackson's hard hit grounder up the middle kept the A's from taking the lead and thwarted Geren's move.

But that's different than babying a pitcher.

  • The Giants have gone 11-3 since falling to 15-16, and have won eight in a row at home (after being swept at home by the Atlanta Braves last month).
  • At this time last year, the Giants were in the midst of being swept by the A's, scoring only one run in three games, and stood at 22-21 on May 23. So, for all those folks (me included!) who have reached for the panic button during times of Giants' stress, there is comfort in remembering that last year had its deep valleys en route to the mountain top.
  • The Giants have reeled off two four-game winning streaks and one six-game winning streak already this year. Their longest losing streak has been four games. Last year, the Giants' longest winning streak was five games, though they strung together nine (9) four-game winning streaks. And their longest losing streak was seven games, from June 26-July 2, when they fell to 40-39.
  • Speaking of defense: the clutch defensive plays by Sanchez and Nate Schierholz were just as thrilling as any game-winning hit, and should remind fans of the multi-dimensional appeal of the game.
Schierholz' acrobatic, fearless diving catch of a slicing line drive off the bat of pesky Jamie Carroll with the bases loaded to save Thursday's 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodger -- I sure do hope closer Brian Wilson bought him dinner that night -- was a true Olympian moment: it took sheer focus and concentration, but also an ability to suspend thought: a pure physical moment that could not allow hesitance or fear of failure to enter into the calculus.

It also took a last second adjustment: as he took flight and was already parallel to the ground, the ball took off to his left, slicing further away from him toward the right field line. He made the adjustment in mid-flight, reaching out to grab the liner. Any misgiving, any second thought on Schierholz' part would have resulted in a disaster. The ball would have sailed past him, and all three runners would have easily scored for a Dodger win.

All the talk would have been about whether Brian Wilson had truly recovered from his ankle tweak from the night before; perhaps speculation would have begun on whether he had lost a few miles off his fastball (which he has, but few have made mention).

But, Schierholz' catch also served to illustrate what could be the marketability of defense at a time when folks have been fretting over the low scoring and anemic offenses around the major leagues. What a premium on scoring has meant is a return to tight, tense contests in which every play, every pitch is worth watching because one big play, one big error, or one big hit can mean the difference.

That can make for exhausting, dread-filled, frustrating, but also fulfilling and triumphant viewing for your typical fan.

It does require a greater attention span and a better understanding of the game. That may mean the casual fan will have to buck up and give a little more to the game than fealty to the more muscular and obvious points of the game. And that's why there are rumblings among baseball wise guys (even the inestimable Marty Lurie, one of the finest caretakers of the game with his deep appreciation for history and the game's finer points) to beef up the offensive side of the game with such remedies as lowering the mound, livening up the ball, or shrinking the strike zone.

But the fact is that pitchers have had to adjust to find ways to thwart hitters (with better conditioning, more pitch varieties, better fastballs), who are still bulked up and have the best tools available to them than any generation (video, sophisticated charting, statistical analysis for matchups, etc). So, why shouldn't the hitters have adjust to the pitchers without having to lean on artificial support?

I find it unsettling and bizarre that after finally emerging from the dark shadow of steroids and human growth hormones (though I suspect the world of PEDs is still very much thriving) associated with the era of skewed power and phony statistics that there would be a clamor for something to be done to throw the balance back to the hitters.

I'm of the firm belief that things will balance out on their own. For one thing, the weather, which has been pretty harsh through the early months, will start to warm up soon, and you'll see bats perk up. Did you notice the number of double-digit runs scored this weekend? On Friday, three teams scored in double digits, including the Nationals, who scored 17 runs, and the Red Sox, who scored 15 runs.

On Friday, the overall average score as 7-3, and all teams combined hit a solid .262, 12 points above the major league average coming into the game. On Saturday, the anemic offense returned: teams hit .244, with an average score of 5-2.

But we'll see if the weather heats up the bats today. Not that I'm rooting for the hitters. Just to keep the reformers at bay.

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