OnBase: Freak on Ice

Watching Baseball at Mission Creek

Watching Baseball at Mission Creek

Innings One Through Three: The Somnambulist

The July edition of San Francisco magazine features Tim Lincecum on the cover: The Best of the Best of the Bay Area. I see it for the first time in my doctor’s office early this morning, and I immediately get a chill down my spine. The doc is also disturbed. The cover picture is bad enough, she says, but the cover story is worse: Tim Lincecum, tonight’s starting pitcher, doesn’t read.

Doesn’t read, but thinks a new windup will solve his pitching problems. Timmy leads the team running out of the dugout. The Doors sing “Light My Fire.” After a few photo op pitches, the Hipster of Bellevue gets down to business: single, steal, single, steal, out, single, homer = 4 runs. It takes Lincecum 34 agonizing pitches to sleepwalk through his worst first inning ever. The cold crowd sits stunned, mouths frozen weirdly open but no sound emerging until Buster Posey pushes a run home in the bottom of the first and Travis Ishikawa brings in Juan Uribe in the second.

Meanwhile, Lincecum the San Francisco cover boy gives way to his avatar, his alter ego, the Freak, a no-nonsense pre-adolescent fantasy who just also happens to be the best pitcher in the league two years running. In the article, Lincecum says “I guess I think you either get in the canoe with your oar and control your boat, or get into it and let the current take you. I’m kind of in between.”

I get the distinct impression the Freak would rather play catch, or read “The Boy Who Saved Baseball” by flashlight under the covers. Appropriately, when he takes the mound in the second he ditches the new windup, and at the end of three, a two-run game. Could be worse.

Inning Four Through Six: Body Heat

Like what if there were two out in the top of the fourth, with light-hitting Cubs catcher Koyie Hill at the plate? The Freak lets Lincecum finish him off. Big mistake. Hill singles. Then the pitcher singles and Tyler Colvin walks. A conference on the mound. Where’s the Freak, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti wants to know. Lincecum looks at the ball. He’s having trouble getting strikes with his fastball, so he throws two curves, both high and inside. Dangerous. He comes back with a fastball; he has to, and Castro has to hit it, bringing in two more runs. Lincecum walks off at the end of the inning shaking his head. The Freak pounds his glove like a frustrated kid.

I head for the View Deck in deep left field behind the foul pole. It is the farthest point from home in the ballpark and also the coldest, and tonight it is extra cold. By five in the afternoon the fog had rolled in and the winds were blowing from the southwest. In the last section, top row, Victor and Bianca cling tightly like climbers on Everest trying to survive the night under layers of Giants’ blankets. It’s their first game. They love it.

Melinda read the San Francisco magazine article and was moved to learn that Timmy was interested in Buddhist Insight Meditation. Melinda loves, and swears by, Jack Kornfield. But Mary sitting a row up shakes her head. “Thich Nhat Hanh. That’s who he needs.”

What do fans do when a game is hopeless and the night is freezing? If they bought personal seat licenses during the dot-com days, they hunker in their albatross seats and get more depressed. Out in left field, the fans who stay submit to personal and communal madness: they hope, knowing it’s hopeless; they drink, dance and sing like the end of the world has already come and gone so who cares? They chant the same dreary chants they chant when the sun is out, with the same dreary effect, a weak illusion of personal participation in Fate.

Like Victor and Bianca, they cuddle and kiss and cuddle some more the colder it gets. Except if they’re smoking, hiding under the stands, where I meet Frank, who is paid by GiantsCo. to harass smokers. It’s a job, and besides, if the police catch smokers before Frank does, they could be fined up to $250. Frank thinks Lincecum needs a girlfriend. I ask him if he thinks the Freak needs a girlfriend, too. “I just told you…” and then he stops and smiles, and shakes his head.

One fan is reading Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”

Innings Seven Through Nine: Therapist Wanted

All is not lost. Or is it? The Giants just keep battling back. And who’s leading the charge? Who else? Buster Posey. With two and and two out in the bottom of the seventh, he hits a solid drive headed toward the left-field bleachers. Will it have enough juice to make it over the wall? The wind that has been howling in our faces suddenly dies and the ball begins to drop. Centerfielder Tyler Colvin sticks out his glove to make the catch, but the ball goes right by him, hitting the top of the wall, scoring Aubrey Huff and Emmanuel Burriss, and OMG! – it’s a two-run ball game!

There’s hope after all! But it fades faster than the hope that won the 2008 elections. Guillermo Mota, who pitched so well yesterday, gives the two runs back to the Cubs, and now the Giants are finished for sure. Or are they? In April we thought the Giants would have to rely on starting pitchers and a Panda. But now, in arctic August, a new picture emerges. Now we are looking at Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff, Ishikawa and Pat Burrell. And of course, one more time, in the bottom of the ninth, with Burris back on base — Buster Posey. He doubles again, and scores when Burrell knocks him home. Too little, too late, but this team doesn’t quit and they don’t go down easy. At least not tonight, and the 10 fans left at the end of the game appreciate it. Two more games against the Cubs, then the Padres come to town. The Adventures of Tim Lincecum and His Freaky Friend continues on Sunday.

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