Beginning in the middle of the sixth inning, the ovations started to grow louder, as a capacity crowd on an overcast Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park realized what was developing – a scene historic yet oddly familiar. Tim Lincecum, whose first career no-hitter had come nearly a year before in San Diego, was facing the same Padres team he mastered last July, and doing it to them again.
A video montage shown on the scoreboard during the early innings Wednesday included the final out of that July 13 game – a fly ball caught by center fielder Gregor Blanco – as Lincecum pumped his fist ever so slightly before being caught from behind in an emphatic hug by catcher Buster Posey.
About two hours later, the image was slightly different, but the result was the same. As Lincecum watched second baseman Joe Panik field Will Venable’s grounder and throw to Posey at first base for the final out of the Giants’ 4-0 win, the mustachioed right-hander bent over and pumped both fists. Then he turned to face the hug of catcher Hector Sanchez, owner of his second no-hitter and a rarified place in Giants history.
Lincecum, who last week celebrated his 30th birthday, became the second pitcher in franchise history to throw two no-hitters – the first being Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. It was the 16th no-hitter in team history, the eighth in the San Francisco era and the third in the majors this season.
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“Right now I guess I can just say it’s really cool,” said Lincecum, who became the 32nd major-league pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters. “I guess when I get older I’ll be able to reflect on that a little bit more and take in what it’s worth. But right now I’m still kind of just in the moment and really happy and just ready to kind of, I don’t know, let it go a little bit.”
Where the right-hander needed 148 pitches to record his first no-hitter in a 13-strikeout marathon at Petco Park, he threw just 113 on Wednesday, striking out six and facing one batter over the minimum. The lone Padre to reach base was Chase Headley, who drew a one-out walk in the second inning on a full-count pitch. Lincecum retired the final 22 in a row.
“He had such a great focus. It really was an artist out there today,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I’m not just saying this, early in the game I said, ‘He’s got a chance to throw a no-hitter here,’ just the way he was locked in and had everything working for him.”
Lincecum recorded 13 groundouts, nine flyouts and six strikeouts. Despite the outcome, he said during the game he “didn’t feel like my stuff was great. I think more it was down and I was getting the ground balls that I needed and the weak pop flies. It didn’t feel like it was a stuff day, it just felt like it was a location day.”
Such command has at times eluded Lincecum and fueled his struggles the past few years, as he came to terms with no longer being the athletic marvel who could overcome spotty control with overpowering fastballs and a devastating curve. He developed a split-change and slider, and said he relied heavily on his off-speed pitches Wednesday, seeing how the Padres’ hitters were driving them into the ground for routine outs.
Panik, the rookie second baseman called up last week, said he noticed the same thing and was ready for Venable’s grounder with two outs in the ninth. “Honestly, I was expecting it just because of the pitch selection and what he’d done in his previous at-bat,” Panik said. “I was just like: ‘Get it to me. This would be pretty sweet to make the last out.’ ”
When he did, Sanchez was the first to greet Lincecum, wrapping him in an embrace – but not lifting him off the ground as Posey had in San Diego.
“I don’t want to hurt him,” Sanchez said. “I just took it nice and easy.”
Lincecum had started the ninth inning at just 97 pitches. After Hunter Pence struck out to end the eighth, there was a brief moment of stillness before Lincecum emerged from the Giants’ dugout and the crowd, nearly every fan standing, broke into a cheer.
Lincecum fell behind pinch hitter Chris Denorfia 2-0 before working the count back to 2-2 and striking Denorfia out on a breaking ball in the dirt. Yasmani Grandal, another pinch hitter, then worked a full count but hit a chopper that Lincecum fielded himself, flipping to Posey at first as the crowd returned to its feet.
That brought up Venable, who fouled a 1-1 pitch to the backstop while fans behind home plate raised phones and cameras in hopes the next pitch would be a historic last. It was – a curveball that Venable rolled to Panik at second – bringing the Giants streaming out of their dugout in celebration.
If teammates had tried to ignore Lincecum during the later innings, per baseball superstitions, Lincecum wouldn’t let them. During a Padres pitching change in the seventh, Lincecum could be seen chatting with coach Tim Flannery.
“He’s extremely relaxed,” Pence said. “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.”
In the clubhouse afterward, the Giants toasted Lincecum, who had begun the day with a 6.85 ERA in June – the team losing three of his four starts in the month – and he hadn’t been blameless in San Francisco’s recent skid of 11 losses in 14 games, during which it lost 61/2 games off its division lead. But for at least one memorable afternoon, Lincecum had put those struggles out of mind, replacing them with a moment of shared euphoria.
“The win was the most important thing,” Bochy said. “But to get the no-hitter – this club needed something. They’ve gone through some tough times here. So a thing like this can bring a club together.”