NL gets Freaky: Lincecum nabs starting nod
Giants righty handed first shot at hurling stellar stuff past AL
ST. LOUIS -- The nation's baseball fans have likely seen the Sports Illustrated cover he's graced, and they've surely seen the video game ads in which he shares the small screen with his avatar.
Alas, many haven't gotten a chance to see reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum in action.
Playing his home games in San Francisco, the Giants right-hander often takes the mound when the rest of the country is headed for bed. And Lincecum was hospitalized with severe dehydration on the morning of last year's All-Star Game at old Yankee Stadium, missing out on a golden opportunity to show the country what they've been missing.
Barring a catastrophe, however, Lincecum will finally be on center stage Tuesday.
Thanks to NL manager Charlie Manuel, the 80th All-Star Game is about to Freak out.
Manuel on Monday morning revealed his starting lineup for the Midsummer Classic at Busch Stadium, and he tabbed Lincecum -- aka "The Freak," "The Franchise" and "Seabiscuit" -- to deliver the first pitch.
"It's obviously a great accomplishment for me," said Lincecum, who wore a black knit cap over his shoulder-length locks during a news conference at a downtown St. Louis hotel Monday. "I'm just excited to be a member of the team again."
With that, Lincecum flashed a grin, looked out over the standing-room-only crowd and added: "Thanks for having me."
Later in the conference, Lincecum was asked if he planned to take any extra precautions against a repeat of last summer's misfortune in Gotham, where he needed several IV bags to re-hydrate his 5-foot-11, 165-pound frame before being released from the hospital.
Again breaking into a wide smile, he suggested that fellow Giants All-Star righty Matt Cain might be called upon for some All-Star eve assistance.
"I'm going to have Cain put a leash around my neck and keep me in my room," Lincecum said.
Cain, in town for the festivities but pulled from the NL roster Sunday because he was hit above the right elbow by a line drive the day prior, laughed when relayed Lincecum's comment.
|Ichiro Suzuki, rf|
|Derek Jeter, ss|
|Joe Mauer, c|
|Mark Teixeira, 1b|
|Jason Bay, lf|
|Josh Hamilton, cf|
|Evan Longoria, 3b|
|Aaron Hill, 2b|
|Roy Halladay, p|
|Hanley Ramirez, ss|
|Chase Utley, 2b|
|Albert Pujols, 1b|
|Ryan Braun, rf|
|Raul Ibanez, lf|
|David Wright, 3b|
|Shane Victorino, cf|
|Yadier Molina, c|
|Tim Lincecum, p|
"We'll definitely keep an eye on him," Cain said.
All eyes will be on Lincecum, 25, as he takes on an American League lineup that features Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira, Jason Bay, Josh Hamilton, Evan Longoria and Aaron Hill. The NL, however, couldn't have a hotter hurler as it tries to nail down its first All-Star game victory since 1996.
Lincecum is 10-2 with a 2.33 ERA this season, and he's on a streak in which he's won 10 of 11 decisions and posted a 1.96 ERA. His last time out, Friday against the visiting Padres, he took a no-hitter and a 29-frame scoreless streak into the seventh inning.
D-backs righty Dan Haren (9-5, 2.01 ERA), who likely will enter Tuesday's game after Lincecum departs, marveled at the recent consistency of his chief rival in this year's NL Cy Young race.
"The last couple times I've pitched, he's pitched the day before me, and I watch him pitch when I can," said Haren, who started for the AL in the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco. "I follow other guys, so I do see how well he's been pitching. I know about the scoreless steak and the [near] no-hitter. And it seems like he hasn't lost in a long time.
"He's definitely fun to watch. He's been dominating."
San Francisco's first-round pick (10th overall) in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Lincecum made his big league debut in May of the following year and quickly established himself among the game's elite -- with his brief but meteoric career refuting the notion that size matters.
"I don't think he even considers himself small," Lincecum's father, Chris, said Saturday afternoon. "He's always been the smallest kid on the diamond, but I don't think the hitters see him as small, either. They just see what he's bringing, and they know it ain't easy to hit."
Particularly these days. Lincecum gave up three runs on four hits over three innings in his first start of the season, and he was touched for 10 hits and four runs over 5 1/3 innings his second time out. He's lost just once -- to the Angels on June 17, despite a quality start in which he allowed three runs over eight innings -- in 16 subsequent assignments.
Featuring a mid-90s two-seam fastball with sink, a "power changeup" that fades away from left-handed hitters and a 12-to-6 curveball that A's slugger Jason Giambi called "ridiculous," Lincecum leads the NL in strikeouts (149), is tied for the league lead in complete games (three) and shutouts (two), and trails only Haren in ERA, innings (127 2/3 to 130) and quality starts (15 to 17).
"He wasn't at full strength to start the season, that was evident," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Lincecum, who lost weight and saw his energy sapped as the result of a flu-like bug that swept through the San Francisco clubhouse this spring.
"Once he got that back, he has been on an unbelievable roll. He's pitching as well as I have seen anybody pitch in my years of playing and managing. He has got to be considered one of the best -- if not the best -- pitchers in the game right now."
The challenge Tuesday, Lincecum intimated, will be in not trying to justify the high praise heaped upon him.
"Hopefully, I won't get too caught up in the situation and throw 95 mile-an-hour fastballs in the dirt just because my adrenaline's going," Lincecum said. "That's one thing I'm worried about. I'm going to try to take it like a regular game and have fun with it."
Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton, another All-Star sidelined by injury but in St. Louis to soak in the scene, feels good about the NL's chances for victory with Lincecum on the hill.
"He won the Cy Young for a reason. He dominates. He just kills people," said Broxton, whose Dodgers are the Giants' biggest rival. "It's nice that he's pitching for our side in this one. I don't like seeing him when he's on the other team at all. I've seen enough of that."
Much of the rest of the country has not, but come Tuesday, they'll get at least a two-inning look at a boyish-looking, long-haired star with an unorthodox delivery simply doing his thing.
Getting his Freak on.
The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET/5 PT. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.