With the first major league pitch of his career for his new team, a 90-mph fastball, Tim Lincecum missed wildly. He threw the second for a slower strike. With the fourth, he broke off the changeup that propelled him to five years of sustained success as a San Francisco Giant.
In his Angels debut on Saturday, Lincecum walked as many men as he struck out. He did not elicit many missed swings. The six-inning outing was not wildly successful. It was, however, more successful than he expected.
“I didn’t necessarily see this game going as well as it did,” Lincecum said. “But it panned out. And it gave me a little more confidence to know I can push through the next game.”
It was a winning effort. The Angels routed the Oakland Athletics, 7-1, at the Oakland Coliseum.
“It was what we had expected from how he pitched his couple starts down in triple A,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Tim just rides out and competes.”
The third batter Lincecum faced on the afternoon, Stephen Vogt, popped a changeup into foul territory. Third baseman Yunel Escobar and left fielder Shane Robinson converged and then watched each other while the ball dropped in between them. Vogt later launched a double, but Lincecum struck out Danny Valencia.
Both teams were using their 10th starting pitchers of the season. Oakland’s starter, USC alum Andrew Triggs, is a reliever by trade. He finished only three innings before giving way to the rest of the A’s bullpen.
Triggs kept the Angels scoreless until Mike Trout’s home run that began the fourth inning. Johnny Giavotella soon hit another off the first Oakland reliever, Ryan Dull. The Angels added their bevy of insurance runs in the sixth, on a two-double, three-single rally punctuated by a Trout double.
Twice, Escobar slid into second base and dramatically declared himself safe. Once, in the first inning, when he tagged from first on a Kole Calhoun fly out, and again in the fifth, when he stretched a grounded single to center into a double. He did not score on either occasion, but he drove in one of the sixth-inning runs with an infield single.
Scioscia thought Lincecum’s command became “fuzzy” in the sixth inning. Lincecum thought his struggles began earlier, in the third, when the brisk-running Billy Burns reached first base and he tried to accelerate his delivery to correspond.
Burns stole second anyway, and Lincecum threw seven straight balls to Vogt and Valencia. The bases became loaded. Then the 32-year-old right-hander pumped a first-pitch fastball to Jed Lowrie, earning the only whiff produced by the 50 fastballs he threw Saturday. He went back to the changeup, and Lowrie grounded out to end the day’s greatest threat.
“You get in the game, things work themselves out, and the emotions subside,” Lincecum said. “I think things are going to go back to normal now.”
Unable to sleep in San Francisco on Friday night, he arrived at the Oakland Coliseum four hours ahead of the 1 p.m. start, awaiting many of his new teammates.
“I just sat around, trying to get the nerves to dissipate,” he said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
He will face Oakland again on Thursday at Angel Stadium. On Saturday, the Oakland Coliseum did not bulge quite as expected. The A’s drew only 500 more fans than Friday night. But there were at least 500 Giants fans in attendance, the green seats littered with orange and black paraphernalia. Lincecum received cheers when he emerged from the Angels’ dugout to warm up, when he was announced as the starting pitcher and again when he took the mound.
In the sixth inning, Lincecum clapped for his teammates when they turned a quick double play behind him. Lowrie lined his next pitch into left field, Robinson secured it, and fans again stood up to commend Lincecum on his performance.
His day was done. To use his favored idiom for fastball velocity, he did not pump any cheese, but he induced the kind of weak contact he could not in recent seasons for San Francisco.
“I’ve tried to scratch what’s been going on the last few years and tried to move on,” Lincecum said. “I’ve tried not to dwell on the past. I had some success in the last four years and a lot of not. So, I’m trying to let that go and move on to wherever I’m at right now.”