MLB Playoffs: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants Ace Reliever?

By Thom Tsang

This was not the playoff redemption story that San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum had envisioned for himself.

Even after a poor 2012 regular season, the two-time Cy Young award winner – and the former horse of the Giants pitching staff – probably didn’t see himself here: relegated to the bullpen, with his team on the brink of playoff elimination at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds, having to watch fellow pitcher Ryan Vogelsong take the mound in a do-or-die game three in hostile territory. No, this was a situation tailor-made for Lincecum, who thrives on pinnacle moments in competition, as he did when he led the Giants to their 2010 World Series title.

Yet, even in the most unlikely of circumstances, Lincecum could find himself with a chance to right his regular season wrongs – even if he has to do it in an unfamiliar role. In the wake of last night’s blowout loss to the Reds, it was Lincecum’s pair of scoreless innings that remained the lone bright spot; there was no struggle with control, no untimely home runs – with only a couple of innings to work with and his team down by four, Lincecum simply didn’t have room for the “one bad inning” that’s haunted him in so many starts this season.

So he didn’t let it happen. Were it not for the struggles of the relievers that followed him, and the inability of the team to generate any offense off Bronson Arroyo, the pair of zeroes that Lincecum put up on the Reds side of the board could have been a key moment – something that the team could rally behind, even if it’s just to chip away at the lead knowing that your relievers can do their jobs.

That didn’t happen yesterday, but game three will have its own story – with the Giants’ playoff lives on the line, the leash on Vogelsong will like be tighter than the one given to Madison Bumgarner. You’ve heard the argument for starting Lincecum in game three – and it’s a valid one, especially considering that Lincecum has been a better pitcher than Vogelsong in the 2nd half – but I’d like to think that, in an all-hands-on-deck situation, traditional roles tend to go out the window. Whether it’s to come in with the bases loaded and the team down 0-2 in the 2nd inning, or to hold a 4-3 lead in the 6th, the Giants have very little room for error to play with, and having Lincecum perform the way he did last night – even if it is only two innings – could be a huge boon for the team’s fortunes.

Starter or not, it not likely that the Giants will bow out without calling on Lincecum at some point during the game. Maybe he’ll throw two innings. Maybe he’ll throw four. The only important number at this point are the zeroes he’ll be expected to put up when called on. Lincecum’s 2012 story isn’t quite over yet, and there is room yet for a scenario in which the former Giants ace will be given a chance on the mound to prove that he can – bad season and all – still lead this team to victory.

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