Here is a link to my Wednesday column. The full text runs below:
This isn’t the saddest story ever told. But it’s sad, anyway;
It’s the Saga of Timmy and Matt — better known to the world as Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. The saga was supposed to have a happy ending, a heroic ending, frankly, with these two Giants pitchers right now in the full flourishing of their prime and their greatness. It was supposed to be Tim and Matt just like Koufax and Drysdale. But that is almost surely over with for Lincecum and Cain. Whatever glory they had — it was considerable — is on the cusp of being history.
One of them, Lincecum, is a vestigial organ on the Giants staff. The appendix. The other, Cain, is struggling to maintain his place in the rotation. He has devolved into a game-by-game decision by manager Bruce Bochy. He is getting his start Wednesday because Mike Leake isn’t ready and, well, Cain is around with nothing better to do. And the Giants want to give him a chance. Can he take advantage of his chance?
Cain is 30 and Lincecum is 31. Ages when pitchers are at their best. Sad all around.
Five years ago, Lincecum was the undisputed ace of the undisputed fabulous Giants staff. He owned the 2010 postseason. He was hero in the World Series, closing out the Rangers on a cold fall night in Texas, getting the win.
He won four games that postseason. He was a giant Giant. Even though he was a small guy, he threw like Roger Clemens — fired flaming rockets toward the plate. He would sit in the clubhouse before games singing, his eyes focused on the ceiling, his eyelids trembling. His teammates let him sing. It was his way of getting ready, of entering his zone. He was a phenomenon, The Freak. And he was ours.
But, Lincecum wore out his body. So predictable. It was always about to happen. No way he could sustain his fastball with that slight body, with that incredibly complicated windup, Lincecum putting everything into every pitch. He was all about speed and power. Nothing about location. Nothing refined about him.
When he lost his speed, he didn’t know how to compensate. How to be a pitcher. The catcher would put down his mitt for a fastball inside and low. Lincecum would miss high and outside. Didn’t know how to hit spots. Had no control over his fastball. After a while, he just stopped throwing fastballs in serious counts. He became Barry Zito.
He’s on the disabled list now. Seems to me like a fiction. He got hit on the forearm in late June, a long time ago. You mean the forearm still hurts? Then there was talk about degenerative hips.
Be real. The Giants need starting pitching. If Lincecum could pitch, if the team actually believed in him, he’d be pitching. I see him in the clubhouse. He’s always laughing with a teammate. Makes a show of having a good time. He knows the media is looking at him, studying him. His laugh is the laugh of someone who is putting the best public face on things in the middle of his downfall.
The Giants pay Lincecum $18 million this season to maintain his happy/sad face. No way he’s a Giant next year. Sad.
Cain’s story is the same story with a few twists.
In the 2010 playoffs, Cain, the wonder child, did not give up single earned run. He had everything — speed, location, a varied repertoire of pitches. He was good as recently as 2012. But then he flat lined — “Lincecumed.” Didn’t pitch in the 2014 postseason. Elbow surgery. Not his fault, getting hurt.
He was supposed to be great this season, a fixture of the starting rotation. But he is struggling to be the fifth guy. He’s just a guy. Cain pitched lots of innings as a young man and, his arm is older than his age. And he leaves so many pitches over plate. He gets crushed.
I was talking to Shawn Estes recently in the Green Room over at CSN Bay Area before we went on air. Estes was talking about new arms, arms that had been surgically repaired. He was not talking about Cain, but as Estes spoke, I thought about Cain.
Estes had Tommy John surgery and, when he came back, he discovered something alarming. His arm felt different. He had lost his release point for his pitches. He worked hard to re-find the release point. “I never got it back,” he said. I heard the sadness in his voice. Betrayed by his left arm which had been his ally — his identity.
Cain is in serious danger of the new-arm tragedy. He doesn’t have his release point. He may never re-find it. His career hangs in the balance. In his past three starts, he has given up 14 runs. Hasn’t gotten into the sixth inning. He earns $20 million this season. He is under contract through 2017. He is a load on the Giants payroll and roster.
He means well. He tries hard. He does the right things. He says the right things. It’s just that the Giants rotation is moving past him and Lincecum. Moving on. Has found other stars. For Cain, this could be the beginning of the end.
For Lincecum, it is the end of the end.