One Blown Call and 14 Strikeouts Later
Tim Lincecum. What a guy. The visceral reaction to last night’s game, watching from a Seattle bar that had a surprising number of Giants fans, was something resembling exuberance. High fives were exchanged, promises were made to come back for the next game, and rounds were bought in celebration of such a momentous occasion.
Interestingly enough, Timmy’s gamescore (a number decided by assigning positive and negative point values to things like IP, hits/walks/runs allowed, and strikeouts) was 96. Roy Halladay’s no-hitter from a day earlier? 94. The man pitched the second no-hitter in postseason history and still isn’t as good as Tim Lincecum (at least in my extremely deluded and biased mind).
Amidst the glory that was Timmy’s 14 strikeouts though was some controversy. With a 3-2 count to Pat Burrell, Bruce Bochy decided to put the runner (Buster Posey) in motion. Burrell struck out, Posey was called safe on a play that replay shows us he was out on, and Cody Ross singled him in. Already in Game 1 we saw a couple things come into play. Firstly, umpires can’t seem to avoid postseason controversy. It was a close call and he didn’t have a great angle to the play that happened to work out in the Giants favor. Secondly, the absence of Jose Guillen in the form of the presence of Cody Ross was the difference in this game. And thirdly, the Braves lackluster defense proved to be their undoing, seeing as Ross’ single into left field seemed to go right through the glove of the Atlanta third baseman.
But that’s the way these things work out sometimes. If you’ve watched enough games this season, you probably know that the Giants have accumulated enough bad-call karma to get a few umpiring miscues going their way for once. If it weren’t for the blown call, there’s a good chance we’d still be watching this game while Timmy logs his 35th strikeout in the 28th inning of a 0-0 tie.
Witnessing that game on the TBS national telecast, it left a lot to be desired. Everything from the commentary to TBS’s crowd-muffling technology grates on the nerves like no other. If you watch the replay of Timmy’s 14 K’s, the roar of the crowd is muted every time they get too rowdy. The ensuing result is the illusion that a polite golf clap erupts after every strikeout, making everything that much more unsettling.
But even a sub-par TBS broadcast couldn’t put a damper on what ended up a glorious night of baseball. Lincecum’s newest run of success couldn’t have come at a better time. Here are some choice quotes from Braves hitters, pulled from Yahoo! Sports Tim Brown’s postgame write-up:
What they saw was a black No. 55, then left ear, then glove, then hair, then left leg, then right arm, all before ball. And then it was too late.
Six months before they’d been no-hit by Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez(notes).
“We might have hit more balls hard in the no-hitter,” Diaz said. “His slider is new. It’s harder and more frequent than he threw. You can’t see it out of his hand.
“On my first strikeout, the second strike was a slider I missed by maybe a millimeter. The third I missed by two feet. And they looked like the same pitch.”
Lee, who’d batted .375 against Lincecum in 17 prior plate appearances, merely shrugged at the thought of hitting what one can’t see.
“We were informed of it,” he said of the slider, “but I have never seen him throw it like that.”
The addition of a slider to Timmy’s already amazing repertoire of pitches makes for a very uncomfortable at-bat. When Braves hitters were guessing changeup, he’s power a high fastball by them. When they sat changeup in a 3-2 count, they were left flailing at a changeup in the dirt. When they geared up for either of those pitches, they’d be reduced to hugging their knees and weeping in the dugout after chasing a slider. Maybe I’m remembering that last part wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it went down.
What we can hope to expect today is more of the same, only with more hitting. The last time a Giants pitcher threw a complete game shutout in the postseason was Jason Schmidt against the Florida Marlins in 2003, and we all know how that series ended up. The only difference is that in 2003, Sir Sidney Ponson was our Game 2 starter. I think it’s safe to say that Matt Cain is a tad more dependable. Cain goes up against the young sensation Tommy Hanson tonight at 6:30, so for the sake of superstition, I recommend you all do exactly what you were doing last night.
UPDATE: Apparently I’m not the only person deluded enough to think Timmy outpitched Roy Halladay last night. Dan Rosenheck of the New York Times quantifies my claims with stats and such. Here’s a choice snippet:
The Phillies didn’t need Roy Halladay to throw a no-hitter, or even a shutout. Since they scored four runs, they would have triumphed even if Halladay had allowed three. Lincecum’s shutout, by contrast, won the Giants a 1-0 nailbiter — with anything less than Tim Lincecum at his best on the mound, they would have gone into extra innings or lost outright.
A statistic called Win Probability Added (WPA) measures the added value of pitching under pressure: Halladay’s pitching improved the Phillies’ chances of winning by 30.6 percent, while Lincecum’s increased San Francisco’s likelihood of victory by 75.4 percent.