The short-legged, long-haired pitcher didn't so much throw to the catcher as funnel the ball through complex pitching machinery that always appeared on the verge of blowing up. They call Tim Lincecum "The Freak" because it doesn't appear as if the human body -- especially Lincecum's 5'11, 175-pound high-school-sophomore body -- should be able to suffer such a toll. Only a freak could put his arm through that torque every five days and have such little wear to show for it.
Three years removed from his second consecutive Cy Young Award, two years removed from a fourth consecutive All-Star appearance, the machine appeared to have finally worn out last year and the pitcher living out some sort of Rookie of the Year dream had returned to reality. Lincecum's velocity was down, his ERA was way up, and he showed little hope of turning it around. He didn't break down, with pops of ligaments or snaps of bones like many thought he would in the end. He just couldn't keep delivering on the promise of his first three years in the league. The pitching miracle showed its age.
Saturday night in San Diego may not have been vintage Freak but it was reason to believe the nickname. In an era where pitch counts are noted on screen, in box scores and in conversations between friends, Lincecum's seemed outrageous. Just four innings in, he had already hit 64. He passed the century mark in the sixth inning -- but the no-hitter remained intact. Surely, there was no way he'd be allowed to finish the game at that rate. If the Padres didn't get to him, surely the manager would -- it's not like baseball hasn't had a shared no-hitter before.
But neither Giants manager Bruce Bochy nor the Padres batters could touch Lincecum. Chase Headley struck out swinging in the ninth inning, then Carlos Quentin hit a lazy fly ball to left. No pitcher in the majors had surpassed the 140-pitch mark after Edwin Jackson threw 149 during his nine-walk no-hitter on June 25, 2010. No pitcher in the big leagues had surpassed the 132 tossed by Clayton Kershaw in May. Lincecum had never thrown more than 138 -- a mark he hit five years earlier.
Yet there was Lincecum, his 148th pitch as good as his first, and Yonder Alonso sending it as an easy fly ball to left field and Buster Posey lifting Lincecum off the ground like two brothers wrestling as Lincecum's first no-hitter entered into the history books.
Tim Lincecum may not be the overpowering engineering experiment he once appeared to be. But there's no doubt: He's still the Freak.