The best views in baseball are the ones at AT&T Park. On a clear day, you can look beyond the outfield and across San Francisco Bay, with the Oakland Coliseum in your sights.
The San Francisco Giants will extend their hearts across the Bay on Saturday. Tim Lincecum, whose artistry on the mound and happy-go-lucky personality off it helped launch the most treasured era in this city’s baseball history, is set to take the mound in Oakland.
For the first time in a major league career that started in 2007, Lincecum will not pitch for the Giants. He will start for the Angels, but his biggest fans will be the ones in his old clubhouse.
“We’ll all be pulling for him,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said.
In his first two full seasons, Lincecum won the National League Cy Young Award. In 2010, as the Giants won the World Series championship for the first time since moving to San Francisco in 1958, Lincecum struck out 14 in the playoff opener, then won the first and last games of the World Series.
He is a four-time all-star and three-time NL strikeout champion. Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry — both Hall of Famers — are the only pitchers to win more games for San Francisco.
“At some level, we’re all fans,” Giants General Manager Bobby Evans said. “You want to see the great stories evolve. There’s something special about him; the impact he had here, the impact he had on all of us — in the clubhouse, in the organization, in the fan base.
“It’s going to be exciting to see him on the hill.”
That, of course, raises the question of why Lincecum is not on the hill for the Giants. There is no team in the major leagues that trusts its veterans more — and spends millions to retain them.
The Giants’ fourth and fifth starters, Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, each has an earned-run average above 5.00. When Lincecum solicited contract offers last month, the Giants did not make one, sparking conjecture about whether he still could succeed at the major league level if the team that knew him best did not want him.
“I think that’s a little reach,” Evans said.
Evans said he respected Lincecum for completing a methodical rehabilitation from hip surgery rather than rushing to try to win a job in spring training. However, by the time Lincecum was ready to sign, Evans said the Giants were committed to Cain and Peavy, and to giving those pitchers the time they needed to right themselves.
Peavy has a 3.42 ERA in his last five starts. Cain has a 2.39 ERA in his last five starts, although the Giants put him on the disabled list this week because of a strained hamstring.
Lincecum had made clear — to every team, not just the Giants — that he wanted to start. The Giants would have welcomed him back as a reliever, but the focus for Lincecum this season is establishing that he still has the ability to start so that he can prosper in a weak free-agent market this winter.
“This isn’t just about this year for him,” Evans said. “It’s about next year, and the years after.
“I didn’t want him to come here under the guise of a chance to be one of our starters.”
The Angels, with five starters on the disabled list, have a rotation spot available for Lincecum. They do not appear poised to contend this season, so they might be able to be more patient if he struggles.
Lincecum, 32, is set to make his first major league start since June 27, 2015. He has rated as a below-average pitcher — according to the OPS+ statistic — in each of the last four seasons.
“When your body changes and is hurt and you need surgery, it starts to change things,” Peavy said. “You’re trying to push through. You change your mechanics. You’re trying to figure out things. Tim fought that for as long as he could before giving in and having to get fixed.
“In talking to Tim, he feels good, as good as he can. If nothing else, he’s going to have the best chance possible going forward. I can’t promise any results. But I’d take him if he’s healthy.”
Bochy said he has exchanged text messages with Lincecum.
“It’s nice to see him pitching again,” Bochy said. “It’s been a long road for him.”
Lincecum posted a 4.13 ERA in 15 starts for the Giants last year. Before his last two starts — and his decision to shut down and submit to surgery — he had a 3.31 ERA.
Bochy said he expects Lincecum to look “close to what he was with us. He’s a tough pitcher with good stuff. He’s going to give his team a chance to win.”
Ron Wotus, the Giants’ longtime bench coach, talked about the “free spirit” who loved to roam the San Francisco clubhouse, headphones on, smiling and singing. He said Lincecum could find motivation in falling down and out in San Francisco, then trying to get up with the Angels.
“Now you get a fresh start with a new organization,” Wotus said.
“I think it’s a good shot for them, to see if they can catch lightning in a bottle. If he’s healthy, he definitely has the stuff. He’s probably matured quite a bit. He’s lived a little bit now. For any player, sometimes that’s refreshing.”