Lincecum pitched through what Lee couldn’t
ARLINGTON, Texas – So it was that the slightest and gamest of them all would also be the last to unclench his fists.
He delivered this championship, pitching the San Francisco Giants past Roy Halladay(notes) once and Cliff Lee(notes) twice, past lineups thought greater than his own. From a mid-summer’s failure of mind and body – “I was a little lost out there emotionally and physically,” he said – Lincecum redirected both, won nine of his final 11 starts and broadened a legacy that, at 26, now holds a World Series trophy pedigree with two Cy Young awards.
By the time he’d handed off the ninth inning to closer Brian Wilson(notes), Lincecum had allowed three hits – two singles and Nelson Cruz’s(notes) seventh-inning home run – and struck out 10. He’d hammered them with a slider he only picked up in September and feathered them with the best changeup in baseball. Most important, he’d outlasted Lee in a game where the first to falter would lose, and everybody knew it, them most of all. They’d lock-stepped into the seventh inning, the game scoreless, Lee pitching for World Series survival, Lincecum for the kill shot.
In the end, neither would retreat an inch, and that is the story of the Giants’ victory, and then of the Rangers’ defeat. Ultimately, it is what brought Lincecum to dash with joy onto a field of delirious brothers, and what sent Lee into a clubhouse of silence and regret.
They are of the same mind. Different frames. Different journeys. Same courage, same ideals, same relentless spirit.
And so when Lincecum was deep into the seventh, threw a slider Cruz hit for that home run, had the Rangers come to within a hopeful 3-1 and then walked the next batter, he knew only to get into the strike zone again and pitch straight into their hearts. He struck out David Murphy(notes) and Bengie Molina(notes), both on wicked sliders, and the Rangers never had another meaningful at-bat.
[Photos: See more of the World Series champions]
“You know what it is? It’s called being a gamer,” Lincecum’s kid catcher, Buster Posey(notes), said. “Walking into the clubhouse today, the guy’s as loose as can be, joking around. Same old Timmy. You’d have no idea he had the opportunity to go out and win Game 5 of the World Series and win us a World Series championship. You saw it from the get-go. He had swing-and-miss stuff all night. Cruz hit a pretty decent pitch out. And he bounced back and got us out of there.”
They’d only gotten there on the back of Lincecum’s first six innings, and of Edgar Renteria’s(notes) thunderbolt three-run home run, and on Lee’s unwillingness to put off the fight to another day. When Giants pests Cody Ross(notes) and Juan Uribe(notes) singled to start the seventh inning, and when Aubrey Huff(notes) bunted them to second and third, and when Pat Burrell(notes) struck out (again) and when one run was going to change everything, Lee had the choice to pitch to Renteria with first base open or Aaron Rowand(notes) with the bases loaded.
Rangers manager Ron Washington stared out at the mound and said nothing. His catcher, Molina, stared out at Lee.
The game would turn here.
For Lee, there was no decision to make: He would pitch to Renteria, no matter the .375 batting average in the series, no matter the postseason resume. In October, through series against the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees, Lee had walked two and struck out 46. He hadn’t arrived at this moment by backing down. Not ever.
“That’s the way I pitched all year,” Lee said. “I don’t want to walk a single batter.”
For Molina, there was one way out of this: Pitch softly to Renteria, walk him if necessary, and attack Rowand, who’d had three at-bats in the series and an inning earlier had struck out on three pitches.
“I was trying to pitch around Renteria with first base open,” Molina said, “trying to go to Rowand. But, it didn’t work out that way. Renteria was having a big series. Rowand hasn’t been playing.”
The Rangers would win or lose on the outcome. And yet Lee and Molina entered into the at-bat without a conversation, with no clear idea of what the other was thinking.
When the first two pitches were outside the strike zone, Molina assumed Lee agreed with his strategy. Renteria assumed the same.
“After that,” Renteria said, meaning the first two pitches, “I’m working the count to see if he can walk me. But, I got lucky.”
The next pitch was a flat cutter for a strike, the only pitch Renteria would have swung at. Lee, in spite of himself, had not backed down.
“I don’t know, Cliff is a machine, man,” Molina said, partly in admiration for Lee, partly in awe of his nature, partly in frustration. “He’s a pitcher that attacks the strike zone. He’s always throwing strikes. I don’t know.”
Lee wouldn’t take it back.
“You know,” he said, “that’s the way the game goes sometimes.”
Doesn’t Lincecum know it. Don’t they all. Sometimes, the game refuses to be so neat. It gets messy out there, and then a guy who won’t be pushed around wins, and a guy who can’t stop the fight loses, and there’s no telling which is which until they count it up at the end.
Today, it was Lincecum who squeezed the drops of celebration from his hair and grinned like the fantasy was even better than he ever thought.
“Pretty exciting, man,” he said. “Extremely happy. This is an amazing feat for all of us.
“It’s just meant to be. A lot of guys wanted to see this happen. A lot of guys for a long time wanted to see this happen with the Giants. And to have it happen now is just a dream come true for everybody.”
By then, he’d softened his jaw and dropped his fists. The fight was over. He’d won. They’d all won. Wouldn’t you know, Tim Lincecum was the last guy standing.