Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Was Twice Is Forever, Then: Timothy Leroy Lincecum and the Cruelty of Understanding

It is said that no good deed goes unpunished. So quickly are the fortunes of a man flipped. No matter the greatness of any defeat, baseball grants a tomorrow in which favor may fall in hand to the defeated. The same can be said about victory. There is rarely a moment so eternally bright that no cloud can dim. The no-hitter, though a surprisingly common feat relative to perfect and four-home-run games, is such a singular event to be praised that it forever hangs on the legacy of he who pitched. So quickly baseball forgives transgressions of the downtrodden. Equally yoked to the present, baseball forgets the proudest of men's accomplishments. Nine days ago, Tim Lincecum was a hero. But last night, the game and the Cincinnati Reds could not care less.

A full moon punched a hole in the blackness above as I raced down U.S. 30 headed home. It's hard to call a thing like that an omen, as I've always assumed a man can translate what he sees into what he wants if he requires justification. Yet despite my assumed sensibility, I immediately felt something prominently laid out before me. As I managed to find the Giants game on the radio, the omen broke. Shin-Soo Choo, the offseason-acquired lead-off man in Cincinnati, doubled to left field. In his last start. Tim Lincecum was hitless. He had just allowed a hit to the first batter he faced. In the blink of an eye, he was average again. Moments later, another double, this time to Todd Frazier, plating three runs. The honeymoon was over and Lincecum had arrived back on planet Earth.

If there was any inclination that the twenty-nine year old Lincecum was going to threaten Johnny Vander Meer's record of two consecutive no-hitters, those thoughts were quickly dashed from the hearts and minds of even the most optimistic Giants fan. I, never sympathetic to a National League rival of any cloth, still sat in a daze given the fallout of the first inning. Never was my expectation for him to pitch another gem, but it was slowly coming into view that we were merely witnessing a return to the metaphorical shoveling of coal. He was laboring through a confident and powerful lineup. Now all that was left in Tim's charge was to gather himself and pray for run support. However, these were not the floundering San Diego Padres. San Francisco was hosting the free-swinging Reds, a team hell-bent on chasing their ancient foes further from playoff contention.

Much like their fallen former ace, the Giants have been slowly relegated to an afterthought in terms of postseason potential. The West Division race, though time would certainly disagree, was beginning to gallop out of reach, being led by Arizona and Los Angeles. Mere months ago, they were raising their second World Series banner in three years. Now the reigning lead dogs must face the music of being sellers at the trade deadline. Such a cruel fate for a champion. The kindness of favor will soften a man's heart, but when he forgets what life was like before the sun, he returns quickly to the darkness. So tells the story of Tim Lincecum on July 22, 2013.

Three runs in the first.

Another two in the second.

One in the third.

Yet another two charged in his name in the fourth.

By the time the seventh and eighth runs were plated, Tim Lincecum had been knocked from the mound and replaced by George Kontos. The twenty-eight year old relief pitcher gave up a double to Brandon Phillips, but Lincecum had let the runners on base. Eight runs were indebted to a man who, perhaps now more than ever, understands the fleeting nature of baseball's blessings. Tim was gone after only three and two thirds innings. He had thrown one hundred forty-eight pitches in his no-hitter. Last night he was two shy of eighty. Gone were the fanfare and praise, rapidly replaced by feigning sympathy from those who couldn't fathom the sentiment if it were ever reciprocated.

Perhaps it was fate that would have Gregor Blanco, the man who caught the last two outs for Lincecum's no-hitter, miss a difficult fly ball down the left field line to allow Choo's double in the first inning. Not that it was Blanco's fault, but given the nature of the game's tandency to bring things such as that into view, one can't help but believe it was all apart of that omen. It is in man's nature to derive understanding from that which he cannot explain. That is the essence of superstition. As any baseball fan can tell long past their dying breath, superstition is a part of the game.

Under a full moon just off McCovey Cove, Tim Lincecum faced fate with all the boldness of a hero and lost. Baseball had promised him a tomorrow. Before and after July 22nd, Tim Lincecum was and will always be a two-time Cy Young award winner, a two-time World Series Champion, and the rightful owner of a no-hitter. Perhaps more accolades are to come for the pitcher, just now entering his prime years. Just nine days prior to this morning, Tim Lincecum walked off the field having made history. There would be no riding off into the sunset. Instead, he was set down in common fashion back into the darkness of mediocrity. We had witnessed a man come back from the brink of extinction to race our minds back to 2008 for a brief moment. Maybe that was our mistake. After all, man controls his destiny only as well as he controls his mind.

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