- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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Maybe Tim Lincecum needed this.
Maybe he needed something on the borderline of career humiliation to happen to him for him to return to who and what he once was, to return to the greatness that he called normal, to find himself.
This season, the Freak was gone as was the thrill. His phenomenon had sunk so deep that coming up for air wasn't an option without the help -- or belief -- of someone other than himself.
A two-time Cy Young-winning pitcher who had a Josh Beckett-like beginning to his postseason career (4-1, 2.43 ERA, World Series ring in 2010), Lincecum didn't seem to be fully recovered from one of the worst tailspins in recent MLB memory. And he was either going to be a part of or be apart from what was going to happen with the Giants in their postseason run.
Manager Bruce Bochy had more than one decision to make when it came to Lincecum (who finished with 10 wins, half of that dismal total in August and September). With a regular season that looked like Alex Rodriguez's postseason, Lincecum forced Bochy to search deeper than just what the numbers were telling him about his pitcher.
Bochy went from manager to guru in making the decision to redirect Lincecum from one-time ace to "break-in-case-of-emergency" wild card. Lincecum's emergency work out of the Giants' bullpen in NLDS Games 2 and 4 (he was credited as the winner of Game 4) is a major reason why "the franchise no longer in the shadow of Bonds" is in the National League Championship Series. His Game 4 rescue was as important as anything done in the NLDS by any other player on the roster.
Two relief outings; 6 1/3 innings pitched; 3 hits allowed; 1 earned run; 8 strikeouts; 0 walks; 1.42 ERA; 0.474 WHIP.
Don't call it a comeback, he's been here for well, yeah, call it a comeback.
Now his role has been totally flipped. Lincecum is doing a Dennis Eckersley. Doing what Joba Chamberlain couldn't. Although no longer
THE GUYor the shared face of the franchise, Lincecum has found a way to have an impact and still embody everything the Giants are about.
In his every wind-up on the mound you can see that he's still fighting, internally and externally. Fighting to prove that he still belongs on the mound, to prove to himself that he's still who he knows he is and we once thought he was, to prove the Cardinals will have to go through him (they didn't score during the fifth and sixth innings he pitched in NLCS Game 1), to prove his manager was right for not totally giving up on him.
"Right now," Lincecum said after his Game 4 win over the Reds, "I feel like times are different. I don't think about the difference between starting and being in a bullpen situation. It's just that I've got to get my outs and do my job."
And with every strike (of the 104 pitches he's thrown so far this postseason, 71 have been strikes), he still may be the most important piece/reason/player that decides whether the Giants make it to the World Series.
Now that The Tim Lincecum Factor is a factor in this postseason, the question is: What does the Guru do now that it seems his franchise player is back to being "The Franchise"? Does he keep Lincecum in relief mode, or does he bring him back as someone he can trust will give him seven or eight solid innings in at least two of the next possible seven-game series?
The decisions Bochy had to make a week ago have since multiplied. All because a 28-year-old regained the look of a phenom. And took that to the mound. And allowed his right arm to do what it was given the power to do.
ESPN's Tim Kurkjian wrote that he believes Lincecum likely will start a game in the NLCS. The Bleacher Report's Baily Deeter wrote that Lincecum should have been the Game 1 starter. Both were right. And now he will start Game 4 against the Cardinals. But this isn't a Disney movie, and contrary to illogical, unrealistic belief in lore, baseball (especially in October) is not a field of dreams. (Unless you are Raul Ibanez.)
No one knows what happens from here. Not Bochy. Not Lincecum. Not even God. So far, we know he's being used as a mid-inning savior, past that is a mystery. All that is known for sure is that the Lincecum that was being spoken of as "the most fascinating ace of his generation" (as SI called him in 2008 before the two Cy Youngs) has made three small appearances which have equated to three small glimpses of his brilliance, which is enough for hope in one dugout and concern in the other.
The beauty in this new fall and rise of Tim Lincecum is watching this stage of his career unfold. The more comfortable he gets (and he seems to be getting more comfortable by the inning), the more his confidence returns, the more he remembers how fast it can be gone, the more he wants to just play a role in the Giants' winning and not be the star or the reason, the more the Giants will depend and rely on him.
We'll all be witnesses. And if he continues as he has in this most recent return, we'll all be worshippers. Bruce Bochy just has to continue to let Tim Lincecum do what he's been doing since this postseason began. He just has to let Tim continue to find his way.