Two days after my original post on Tim Lincecum of the SF Giants comes the following story from the San Francisco Chronicle. As you will see, the gist of the story is that Lincecum is humbly accepting his role as the last pitcher to be called on out of the bullpen these days in the playoffs.
On the one hand this should not be remarkable. A cynical fan might observe, “Well for 17.5 million a year they can do with him whatever they wish! Why shouldn’t he have a good attitude?”
However ego and pride are the very attributes most players have either acquired via hard work and/or natural talent by the time they reach the big leagues. One could even make the case that ego and pride are the very qualities that protects the player from the abyss of abject failure which lurks behind just one bad pitch or one misjudged fly ball.
In any event people relate to Lincecum as portrayed in this article because he is gracefully accepting his lot. Giant fans pull for his success because he is putting the team above his ego. In this day and age such a development is refreshing and grounding whenever one has the good fortune to encounter it.
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Tim Lincecum handling loss of spotlight with aplomb
By Ann Killion
Updated 9:36 am, Saturday, October 11, 2014
As Jake Peavy watches, Tim Lincecum works to stay sharp during a bullpen session Wednesday. Lincecum has not pitched in the 2014 playoffs and last appeared in a game Sept. 28.
San Francisco Giants pitchers Madison Bumgarner, left, and Tim Lincecum stand in the outfield during a team workout Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, in Pittsburgh. Bumgarner gets the start against Pittsburgh Pirates’ Edinson Volquez in Wednesday night’s National League wild card baseball game in Pittsburgh.
ST. LOUIS — Sports can be so humbling.
One instant, you’re the most important player on a team. And then, suddenly, you’re not.
How athletes handle that fall in status is one of the fascinating things to watch in sports. Their humbling happens publicly, in the spotlight’s unforgiving glare. Some pout. Rage against the fates. Blame managers, media, teammates.
And others handle their demotion with grace. Sometimes the toughest moments reveal the strongest character.
We’ve seen it in the Bay Area. Alex Smith handled the loss of his starting job with the 49ers with more poise than most of us could imagine mustering. In 2010, Barry Zitowas left off the postseason roster, worked tirelessly to be ready in case he was needed, and was redeemed in 2012.
This year, it’s Tim Lincecum’s turn. In five postseason games, he hasn’t been used. One of the most popular Giants in history, one who personified the team’s championship run, has become an afterthought.
But he displays no bitterness. No anger.
“I’ve got to do my best to be a good teammate,” Lincecum said. “What these guys have been able to do is pretty special. Not to be a part of it didn’t really take any skin off my back. Because everyone did something good, something special and we won.
“That’s the ultimate goal.”
Manager Bruce Bochy said he wants to get Lincecum in a game. Bochy said he’s comfortable using him in long relief, to get a big out or in extra innings. But it’s clear Lincecum has become the last option out of the bullpen.
“He’s been handling it great,” said Ryan Vogelsong, who went through his own demotion from starter to long reliever when he pitched for Pittsburgh. “It can’t be easy at all. It’s a much different scale than it was for me because I didn’t have the success he’s had. In that situation, it’s hard to feel like you have a purpose.”
Lincecum has found a purpose: to be a good teammate.
“I just try to be myself, to keep the mood light,” Lincecum said. “Obviously, it’s under tense circumstances. We’ve got to remember the game is fun, and that along with the grind, we can celebrate our small accomplishments.”
Lincecum learned something from the way Zito handled himself in 2010.
“He was so composed, and showed a lot of character,” Lincecum said. “I could see what that meant to everybody. This is a huge time to be a good teammate. There’s a lot of emphasis on energy. You need to keep morale up.”
Lincecum is observing this postseason from a very different perspective: not just from a seat in the bullpen, but through the lens of experience. Now 30, this is his eighth season in the majors, his third postseason. He and Matt Cain are the old men now, watching rookies like Joe Panik and Hunter Strickland.
“It’s fun to watch the young guys shine,” Lincecum said. “It’s surreal, because you look back on what you did at a young age and these guys are doing it on an even bigger stage. And it’s hard not to be proud.”
Lincecum laughed at his words.
“I mean I’m not their dad or anything, kind of more a brotherly way,” he said. “Yeah, I’m the wise old man. I’m still learning.”
The last game Lincecum started in the postseason was Game4 of the NLCS in St.Louis in 2012. He gave up six hits and four runs that night in an 8-3 loss.
“I didn’t have a good one. I was all over the place,” he said. “They whacked me around early and I didn’t last very far. I put us in a big hole again, but we dug ourselves out again.”
Lincecum was terrific coming out of the bullpen in that postseason, pitching 41/3 innings in relief to get a win in Cincinnati in the NL Division Series and adding two masterful outings against the Tigers in the World Series.
The closest he has gotten to coming into a game this October was in Game2 in the NLDS. He would have pitched the 19th inning had the game not ended in the 18th, and he was up and throwing in the bullpen a few times earlier on that cold night in Washington.
“It wasn’t warm,” Lincecum said. “We had a nice heater; you could tuck yourself back in there to keep warm. Then (Brandon) Belt hit that home run. That was so special to see.”
Lincecum said he’s prepared for any situation. He doesn’t think there’s any chance of losing an edge at this high-adrenaline time of year. He has tried to be mentally “locked in” every game, to see how his teammates are attacking hitters.
“You don’t want to be that guy who makes a stupid pitch, especially late in the game,” he said.
His teammates believe something big might be right around the corner for Lincecum.
“He’s dangerous,” Vogelsong said. “He’s a game changer. I expect to see him in this series. It’s going to come down to a big game and he’s going to win it for us.”
Until he’s called upon, Lincecum is staying ready.
“I’m trying to keep that flow in my emotional state, stay positive and take every day for what it is,” he said.
And every day in the playoffs is pretty special.
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