Eric Risberg / AP

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum throws against San Diego Padres' Yasmani Grandal in the ninth inning of their baseball game, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in San Francisco. Behind the plate are Giants catcher Hector Sanchez and home plate umpire Adam Hamari. Lincecum threw his second career no-hitter. San Francisco won the game 4-0. (AP Photo/ Eric Risberg)

Lincecum’s second no-hitter also a moment for Panik, Sanchez, Giants

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2014 - 8:42 pm
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 30, 2014 - 6:05 pm

SAN FRANCISCO -- The second baseman who fielded the final out, who was playing in Triple-A a week ago, said he wasn’t nervous as Will Venable’s grounder bounded toward him with two outs in the ninth. "Honestly," said Joe Panik, "I was expecting it because of the pitch selection and what he’d done in his previous at-bats. I was pretty much waiting for it to come to me. When it did, I wasn’t really surprised."

The first baseman who caught Panik’s throw, touching off the celebration on the infield, said it was a different experience for him than last July 13, when he was behind the plate and calling pitches during the first no-hitter of Tim Lincecum’s career. "It was less nerve-wracking for me," said Buster Posey. "But at the same time, probably from about the fifth inning on, you’re thinking, ‘Man, he’s got the stuff …’"

The manager who has now seen Lincecum no-hit the San Diego Padres in the span of less than a calendar year said he had a feeling early about this one. "I’m not just saying this -- early in the game I said, ‘He’s got a chance to throw a no-hitter here,’" said Bruce Bochy. "Just the way he was locked in and had everything working for him. … He had such great focus. It really was an artist out there today, I thought."

The catcher who called Lincecum’s 113-pitch, one-walk, six-strikeout performance said he opted in the immediate aftermath not to lift the slight right-hander off the ground with his celebratory hug, as Posey did last July in San Diego. "I don’t want to hurt him," said Hector Sanchez, smiling. "I just took it nice and easy and did a small hug."

And the recipient of that hug, the owner now of two no-hitters, the only pitcher in Giants history besides Christy Mathewson with two in a Giants uniform, the 32nd pitcher ever to hurl more than one in his career, didn’t need to say much at all to convey more than did a subtle, doubled-over pump of the fists as the final out was secured and his teammates poured out of their dugout to mob him on the infield.

"Right now," said Tim Lincecum, "I guess I can just say it’s really cool."

It seemed such a fitting response. Days removed from his 30th birthday, older and more familiar with failure and sporting a thin mustache to go with his shaggy hair, Lincecum again proved he can still deliver the kind of extraordinary moment that seemed to come so easily to him as a younger, flame-throwing athletic anomaly.

He faced just one batter over the minimum in the Giants’ 4-0 win, issuing a one-out walk to Chase Headley in the second inning before retiring the next 22 in a row. He threw 113 pitches while striking out six, 35 fewer than he needed in his first no-hitter last July 13 in San Diego. He recorded the 16th no-hitter in Giants history, the eighth since they moved to San Francisco, the third at AT&T Park and the third in the majors this season. He’s the second pitcher ever to no-hit the same team twice in his career, joining Addie Joss, who threw a perfect game against the White Sox in 1908 and then no-hit them in 1910.

Lincecum’s past few seasons have been a struggle, and yet how many pitchers can claim this: At 30 years old, the still boyish-looking right-hander has two Cy Young awards, two World Series rings and now two no-hitters to go along with them.

He celebrated the latest in his own individual style, after his Giants teammates were done mobbing him on the field and dousing him with Gatorade during a post-game interview. TV cameras showed Lincecum donning a personalized Team USA soccer jersey, one of the warriors’ helmets acquired by Michael Morse and Hunter Pence, and doing the "Yes! Yes! Yes!" finger-pointing gesture before the Giants toasted him in the clubhouse. Later, Lincecum was asked how he would spend the rest of the evening.

"Uh, go to my house, I don’t know, maybe drink a little bit," Lincecum said. "Can I say that? I guess I can."

Who was going to say no? As Bochy said, Wednesday’s game was "The Tim Lincecum Show," complete with Lincecum collecting two hits and a walk and scoring two runs to help his own cause offensively. He led off the third inning with a single and scored the game’s first run on Pablo Sandoval’s double, then led off the seventh with another hit and eventually scored on Posey’s two-run double that gave him a four-run lead.

"Regardless of what (the Padres) did, I think it’s cool I had two hits anyway," Lincecum said with a grin. "Until today I only had one, and a pretty poor batting average. So I got that thing above .100, and I feel a lot better about it."

Lincecum said the moment he actually knew Wednesday had a chance to be a special day was not a particular pitch he delivered or out he recorded, but "when I got my (first) hit." When he got the second, he said, it was "even more so."

By that point in the seventh, a sellout crowd at AT&T Park and the entirety of the Giants’ dugout was fully aware of what was developing. Baseball superstition calls for the pitcher to be left alone, almost ignored, in that situation. Lincecum, though, was having none of that. While the Padres made a pitching change in the seventh, he jogged off second base to the dugout and interacted with teammates, stopping to chat with third-base coach Tim Flannery.

"I figure it’s more awkward when they don’t talk to you than when they do," Lincecum said. "I’d rather have people around and joking and making it lighter than it is."

Said Hunter Pence of Lincecum in the later innings: "He’s extremely relaxed. It’s almost like he’s immune to the big moment. … When it’s happening, he doesn’t make it a bigger deal than it is. Or actually, he makes it a lesser deal than it is, if that makes sense."

There was no mistaking, however, that Lincecum’s performance on Wednesday was a big deal -- and not just for its individual, historic significance. The Giants had started the day losers of 11 of their last 14 games, a stretch in which their starting pitchers had combined for a 5.63 ERA. Lincecum had not been an exception to those struggles, with a 6.85 ERA in his first four June starts. After scoring two runs in the first two games of this series, the Giants were in danger of being swept by the Padres, who were 12 games under .500 when the series began.

"We needed this win," Bochy said. "We needed a good pitching effort. The win was the most important thing, but to get the no-hitter -- the club needed something. They’ve gone through some tough times here. So a thing like this can bring a club together."

It remains to be seen if one win can spring the Giants back into the form they occupied in the first two months of the season, winning two-thirds of their first 63 games. It might be foolish to think it can. Still, at least for one afternoon, those recent struggles seemed to be pushed out of mind, replaced by a sense of shared happiness in the Giants’ clubhouse.

As Posey finished addressing reporters Wednesday afternoon, and they drifted away from his locker, he added something that was unprompted and candid and revealing.

"It’s just so fun," Posey said. "Are no-hitters as fun for y’all as they are for us?"

* The final out was a cool moment for Panik, making his fourth career start in the majors and making the last play of a no-hitter. He said of his mental state in the ninth inning: "It wasn’t so much nervousness, it was more excitement. With every pitch, I felt like I could cover first base to second base, just cover ground."

He didn’t need to cover much on Venable’s final grounder, which he said he anticipated when he saw Lincecum throw a curveball and remembered Venable rolling over a pitch to ground out to him in the sixth. Even as the ball came toward him, Panik said, he didn’t tense up.

"It was one of those things, just make the routine play you’ve always made," Panik said. "It wasn’t anything crazy where I had to go dive for it. It was just routine. My thought was, just secure the ball and get it over to Buster."

That Panik was still in the game at that point was something of a vote of confidence from Bochy. The Giants had a pair of more experienced infielders on the bench in Brandon Hicks and Joaquin Arias. Yet Bochy chose not to substitute for Panik or for Sandoval at third base, where Arias has often entered late in games over the past year.

"With Pablo, if you look at his third base play, it’s been really impressive, the jumps he’s getting on the ball, his range, how he’s throwing," Bochy said. "He’s a different third baseman now than when I was taking him out and putting Arias out there."

With Panik, Bochy said, the difference of bringing Hicks cold off the bench into a high-pressure situation -- especially knowing Hicks hasn’t played much more at second base than Panik has -- didn’t seem worth it. "I left (Panik) out there because he was out there," Bochy said.

It paid off, and resulted in a moment that the 23-year-old rookie likely won’t forget.

"It’s been a crazy five days for sure," Panik said. "That’s probably the best way to say it. And today just capped it off."

* The result also had to be rewarding for Sanchez, who has -- whether by coincidence or not -- become Lincecum’s regular catcher this season and therefore had a shared role in Lincecum’s ups and downs. Bochy said that he "made sure I told Hector out on the field, ‘You’ll never forget this moment. You’ve got to be proud of this.’"

"For a catcher to catch a no-hitter, that’s pretty special," Bochy said. "He should feel so good about that, because he’s such a huge part of what happened today, and they did have a good rhythm going. The flow of the game, everything, they were on the same page."

Sanchez said working with Lincecum regularly over the course of the season likely aided their chemistry Wednesday "a lot, because I probably know what kind of pitches he can throw in any situation." Until the last out, though, Sanchez said he tried not to let himself get caught thinking about the possibility of catching a no-hitter.

"After the last out, you can enjoy the moment and see what is the feeling," Sanchez said. "But before, you have to be focused, keep calling pitches. Before you have to be focused 100 percent."

Afterward, though, Sanchez allowed this:

"It’s amazing. Anybody wants to be part of something as special as this. That’s a great feeling. … During the game, you don’t want to think about it, but after it’s probably the best feeling in the world.

"After winning the World Series," Sanchez added, catching himself and grinning. "The second-best feeling."

* Quite a day, also, for Adam Duvall, who was called up to the majors for the first time Wednesday and arrived at AT&T Park in time to witness history. The Giants called up Duvall after placing Angel Pagan on the disabled list, and Duvall was in the dugout for the game, wearing No. 37 and taking part in the celebration afterward.

"He must be the good-luck charm or something," said Panik.

Duvall, who was leading the Pacific Coast League with 23 homers in 67 games at Triple-A Fresno, said he got the news late Tuesday night.

"It was like somebody punched me in the chest," he said. "I couldn’t get any words out. You dream about this for so long, as a little kid, and to finally be able to hear the words coming out of your manager’s mouth that you’re going up, it’s awesome."

Duvall said he texted his parents and told them to both be near the phone when he called shortly thereafter, so he could break the news to both at the same time. They hopped the first flight they could from Kentucky, he said, and managed to get to AT&T Park by the first or second inning Wednesday, so they saw the no-hitter as well.

While his power numbers this year jump off the page, Duvall, an 11th-round draft pick by the Giants in 2010, said his "approach is never really to hit home runs.

"That’s a byproduct of catching the ball out front a little bit and catching it on the barrel. My approach here will be just to try to stay on top of the ball, because it’s a big park, and just try to stay gap-to-gap, not try to pull the ball too much and just really drive in runs.

"Home runs are a plus, but anytime you can drive in runs and help your team win, that’s what you’ve got to do."

* Pence, who lockers next to Lincecum in the Giants’ clubhouse, was asked if he noticed anything different about Lincecum in the hours leading up to his start Wednesday.

"Not at all," Pence said. "Nothing."

Except …

The personalized Team USA jersey Lincecum was wearing after the game? Apparently that had just arrived Wednesday morning, along with one for Pence. Pence said that when Lincecum came into the clubhouse from warming up, Pence gave Lincecum his jersey, and Lincecum was "pumped."

"That was the one sign of difference, where I saw him really excited," Pence said. "So I think we’re going to give a little shout-out to Team USA soccer."

Pence said the Giants have been "inspired" watching the U.S. team in its first two World Cup matches, and will be following closely when they play Germany on Thursday with a chance to advance to the knockout round on the line.

"We’re going to be rooting for them," Pence said. "We believe in them. They’ve done outstanding as it is."

* Taking a backseat to Lincecum on this day -- Posey with a four-hit game, his first of the season and first since last July 8 against the Mets. Remember when Posey was struggling at the plate and Bochy was fielding questions regularly about the former MVP’s offense? Posey has now hit safely in 19 of his last 21 games, and is batting .366 in June to raise his season average to .291.

* Also in non-Lincecum notes, shortstop Brandon Crawford hit his eighth triple this year in the second inning, which at the time tied him for the major-league lead. Crawford had eight triples in his career prior to this season.

* A remarkable note that’s making the rounds on social media: Lincecum is one of only two pitchers with two Cy Young awards, two World Series titles and two no-hitters. The other: Sandy Koufax.

* It wasn’t easy with all the immediate reaction to Lincecum’s outing, but briefly both he and Bochy were able to step back a little and talk about Lincecum’s transformation since his precocious Cy Young seasons. And that seems as good a place to end as any, on a day when Lincecum rediscovered some of the old magic.

"You’re young and a power guy, you’re throwing 96 to 98, eventually it’s going to come down with the workload," Bochy said. "You get 1,000 innings in you and your velocity is probably going to come down. So you do have to become more of a finesse pitcher, or an artist like he was today, and start hitting your spots, come up with other pitches.

"When he came up, he was basically a fastball-curveball guy. Then he came up with that great changeup, slider. He’s a four-pitch guy now. Sometimes he tries, I think, to work a little too hard out there. And that’s what I liked about the game today. It just looked like he was putting very little effort into his delivery, and it worked out very well for him."

And from Lincecum:

"I’ve always been that guy that’s just kind of going to go for the strikeout. I think my first no-hitter, I had 13. So I think I was going for those a little more often. And today I tried to be a little more efficient and take what they were going to give me.

"They were giving me a lot of ground balls, a lot of pop flies. I was just going to try to keep attacking in the way that I was, and just not fall from that mentally and try to stay focused. The hardest part is inning to inning focus.

"Today, it kind of all came together."


Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara



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