“We’re not beginning to . . . to . . . mean something?” —Samuel Beckett, Endgame.
Bottom of the fifth inning, Giants down to the Dodgers 2-0. Nick Noonan subbing for Pablo Sandoval, hits a soft liner to open the frame. Pitcher Tim Lincecum picks up a bat and walks over to the plate. With his hair cut, he looks smaller than ever. Everyone in Mission Creek Ballpark, and the thousands, if not millions watching the game on television, expect Lincecum to bunt. Edinson Volquez throws a curve for a ball. He gets Lincecum to bunt-foul a sinker. Then follows with another.
It is the third game of the final Giant-Dodger series of the season. From the first inning, the game has had an intensity that belies its context. The season ends for the Giants on Sunday. The Dodgers are preparing for a long playoffs. And yet here is drama. Electricity. Here is character. Especially one character — “The Freak,” “The Hipster” — the only two-time Cy Young Award winner ever busted for pot — Tim Lincecum.
OK, it is impolite to talk about the bust, his use of four letter words on television, the trashing of Ms. Freile’s condo (which, according to one report, Tim blamed on his dog, Cy). Don’t worry. He’s changed. He’s more professional now. More businesslike. He understands he’s got responsibilities.
Did he get a lobotomy in the off-season?
No. He’s pushing 30.
Say goodbye to The Freak. Au revoir to the Hipster. And howdy to Buster. Buster Lincecum.
As he has reinvented his character over the years, he has also had to reinvent himself as a pitcher. An end to his furious fastball meant an end to his devastating changeup. He still relies on his unorthodox delivery style, but he no longer belongs on the same stage with Yuan Yuan Tan.
And Buster (Buster Posey) says Mr. Lincecum has got a game plan now. A plan he follows. How novel!
He pitches well tonight. Not lights-out-great, but good. His control is shaky at times, and he’s not hitting his locations consistently, but he doesn’t have that “little boy lost” look he gets just before the roof crashes down.
And his dominance of Dodger super rookie Yasiel Puig? It appears to be part of a plan.
Standing in against Volquez, he’s got another job. To bunt.
Often overlooked, the bunt is the runt of baseball plays. It looks easy. But, like everything in baseball, it’s difficult to execute with precision. Especially difficult some say.
Two days earlier, I had watched Lincecum take batting practice. He concentrated on bunting. Over and over; bunting away and apparently having a good time. I had seen this before. No one on the team seems to have as much fun as Lincecum at batting practice. Of course I don’t see him walking on his hands or doing crazy cartwheels along the sidelines like in the old diva days.
Last night the work paid off. Sinkers are tough pitches to bunt, but Lincecum lays the ball down perfectly, advancing Noonan by leaving the catcher no play but to first. And that was close. As he trots off the field, the Mission Creek Ballpark explodes.
Thanks to Lincecum’s successful sacrifice, Noonan will score on Angel Pagan’s subsequent ground out. The Giants will pick up another run in the inning when Brandon Belt hits the first of his two doubles.
The game was classic Giants baseball. Excellent pitching, timely hitting, no errors and few mental mistakes.
In the end, the game turns on Angel Pagan’s eighth inning home run.
Pagan, missing in action for what seemed like an eternity, was “missed more than we thought,” said Bruce Bochy after the game. His return, after hamstring surgery, along with other elements, such as Lincecum’s more consistent pitching, have the Giants looking like the team we expected them to be.
Battling the Dodgers as the regular season ends. Though we thought the stakes would be higher.
In the clubhouse after the game, while Lincecum vaguely answers questions about his future, the Mission’s favorite closer, Sergio Romo, talks about subjects more pressing and closer to home: La Taqueria and Dianda’s Italian American Bakery.
After Romo walks out in his Vernon Davis jersey, someone from the media asks Timmy about the fan ovation to his bunt.
“Yeah. That was probably one of the best sacrifice bunts I ever did in my life.”