Lincecum shows growth beyond his years

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – He stared at nothing.

Tim Lincecum sat at his locker, covered only by a towel, in full catatonia. A half-empty Gatorade bottle rested in front of him, and it's safe to say he wasn't scanning the ingredient list. He looked right past it, at the wall, against which he gladly would have banged his head were a headache not the promised trade-off.

Two hours after the worst start of his season Sunday, and the worst loss of the San Francisco Giants', Lincecum's anger bubbled. It registered so incongruous, the baby-faced kid sporting such a sourpuss, and yet no one blamed him. He had squandered most of a seven-run lead, the Giants lost 11-10 to a Kansas City Royals' team that has more trouble scoring than a dweeb at prom, and he reacted the only way he knows how: self-flagellation.

"It's difficult not to be hard on yourself," said Lincecum, the 24-year-old whose 2.21 ERA entering the game was baseball's second best. "It's not only your own expectations, but sometimes it's the team's. Especially with where we were in the game. We had such a big lead. I let people down."

The look, the words – they were that of someone with far more experience than 39 major league starts. And, too, part of the growth curve of every ace, which Lincecum is fast becoming.

He showed accountability bordering on guilt, one of the reasons the Giants so love him and the nine teams that let him slip in the draft two years ago – including Kansas City &ndash wonder how they allowed issues such as his size (5-foot-10, 150 pounds) or his delivery (like a tornado of limbs, yet somehow mechanically near-perfect) to nullify him from their draft boards.

Lincecum's best attribute, performance, hasn't waned since he rocketed from the University of Washington to the major leagues in less than a season. He had his usual array Sunday: the 97-mph fastball and hammer curveball and death-to-cheaters changeup. He struck out four in the first two innings. Then, staked a 6-0 advantage, he fell apart.

By the time he answered questions about the game, Lincecum had snapped out of his happy place – which, actually, was rather sad – to assess his day. And it was just as horrific as he'd remembered: five earned runs in five innings, his shortest start in 15 this season and the most runs he'd allowed since Aug. 11 last season.

"We had a chance to step on their throat when they were down," Lincecum said, "and I didn't help at all in that."

He could have busted out the checklist of excuses. Everyone around Lincecum did. Giants manager Bruce Bochy wondered about how the pace of the game – it made a snail look like Usain Bolt – affected Lincecum. The Giants chased Royals starter Kyle Davies in the second inning, his replacement, Jeff Fulchino, had no command and, at one point, Lincecum spent close to an hour on the bench, tried to focus, lost it, regained it and continued the yo-yo.

"As the innings were going on, I was thinking, 'Gosh, he just keeps sitting here, sitting here,' " Giants catcher Steve Holm said. "That one inning had to be, what, 45 minutes?"

Others figured the flip in the third inning rattled him. Lincecum uncorked a wild pitch that Holm couldn't locate. David DeJesus motored from second base toward home, and though Lincecum never got the ball, he attempted to block the plate, which ended with him doing his best impersonation of a Flying Wallenda.

Lincecum shook off the crash landing, gave up one run the next inning, watched the Giants hand him a 10-3 lead and yielded two more runs before leaving. He staggered into the dugout, winged his glove and proceeded to sulk, looking not the picture of a star but someone still a step or two away.

"Too early to tell," Giants outfielder Randy Winn said. "We'll see. He's still a young guy. He's pitched unbelievably this year. I think he can develop into that guy. He's pitched like that guy."

More this year than last. At times in 2007, Lincecum dominated, and others he lost command and lost it, period.

Such was his downfall Sunday. He threw 64 strikes and 45 balls. Kansas City, ready for the high fastball on which Lincecum so relies, teed off. Lincecum struck out eight, sure, though that provided him little solace as he picked his cuticles and scrolled through his iPhone and did anything he could after the game to forget.

"Time, I guess," Lincecum said. "I always try to take something good away from a game. Right now, it's hard to take away anything. I'm looking forward to the next start."

By then, this outing will be a memory best left to the deep recesses. He'll be back to the same Timmy he was before the start, when he slipped on the day's special uniform, a baggy homage to the Royal Giants of the Negro Leagues, and better resembled a kid whose grandma got him three-sizes-too-big pajamas for Christmas. Lincecum nonetheless embraced the get-up and even started pantomiming an old-time wind-up, full of kinks and pauses and arm waggles. Done in his adopted city, Satchel Paige would have been proud.

He would've appreciated Lincecum, actually. The fastball and curveball and change are nice, and the funky delivery is all well, but the stare … that would've sold Satch – or anyone, for that matter.

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