Angels’ Tim Lincecum struggles in loss to Mariners, 6-4

Angels pitcher Tim Lincecum tosses a baseball while waiting to be pulled out of the game during the fourth inning of a loss to the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 5.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Thirteen years ago, 20 miles from the place where he returned to pitch for the second time in a decade Friday night, Tim Lincecum pulled off a feat local baseball lifers say they will never forget.

He had tweaked his back hitting for Liberty High, his coach, Glen Walker, desperate enough for offense to turn to the kid who weighed 140 pounds. Ahead of their late-spring matchup, the baseball coaches at rival Skyline High heard rumors Lincecum would not pitch.

But he pitched. He threw almost exclusively knuckleballs — fastballs only for put-away pitches — as he pitched his team to victory, and, eventually to a state championship.


“I’ve always joked that he could turn into a knuckleballer if he wanted, from what I saw that day,” said Tighe Dickinson, the Skyline coach who would later become Lincecum’s pitching coach at the University of Washington.

Now, at age 32, each start he makes for the Angels serves as an additional bit of evidence supporting the theory that he must try something different. What he’s doing isn’t working. Lincecum let more Seattle Mariners on than he retired Friday, yielding six runs in the first inning of the Angels’ 6-4 loss at Safeco Field.

During his rise to fame in San Francisco, Lincecum became closely associated with MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” his electro-funk warmup song of choice at AT&T Park. He nixed it when he started to struggle years later, instead favoring a song from 1990s one-hit wonder New Rad-icals. But, as Lincecum sat in the visiting dugout Friday evening, nearly two hours before first pitch, Safeco Field speakers blared a French remix of his familiar track.

In “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck wrote: “It’s a thing to see when a boy comes home.”

And, with his father, Chris, and friends in attendance, it was by far the most comfortable milieu Lincecum has absorbed as an Angel. Still, the homecoming of the man who was once baseball’s most improbable star was over-shadowed by so much.


Thousands lined up hours before the gates opened, needing to be one of the first 20,000 to receive a Ken Griffey Jr. bobblehead. Sections near the left-field foul pole filled with fans clad in yellow, forming the King’s Court, standing as Felix Hernandez made his second home start since a two-month disabled list stint. Lincecum said he was not any more nervous than normal.

“My nerves come on a daily basis, getting out there on the mound,” he said.

As he warmed up for his first inning, staked to a three-run lead, the Mariners rolled out a 15-foot red carpet into the Angels’ on-deck circle. Lincecum paused as Griffey emerged.

Only one of Lincecum’s first eight pitches was a fastball, the pitch of decreased intensity battered in all his recent outings. Still, he yielded a single and stolen base to Nori Aoki, and then singles to Seth Smith and Robinson Cano, before Nelson Cruz dribbled a ball up the third-base line. Lincecum reached it but could do nothing with it.

After a sacrifice fly for the second out tied the game, Lincecum cornered catcher Mike Zunino into an 0-2 count. He buried back-to-back changeups in the dirt and then threw a third closer to the plate, still a ball. Finally, he fired the same pitch at the bottom corner, and Zunino walloped it for a three-run home run.

“It seemed to happen pretty fast,” Lincecum said.

The next man up, Shawn O’Malley, placed a perfect bunt for a base hit, and, for a moment, Lincecum’s face displayed his frustration. His misery eventually ended, his luck turning after he walked the first man he faced in the second. He induced a double play to escape the inning, and, to begin the third, Kyle Seager ripped a ball down the line. But first baseman Jefry Marte lifted his glove and the ball flew in.

Lincecum’s fastball velocity was somewhat improved, reaching 90 mph frequently in the first. Afterward, he had come to believe he should have thrown it more.


“I think those guys were sitting soft on me, and I didn’t go to it enough,” he said. “I think I’ve gotten so caught up in trying to attack the zone and throw strikes that today was a step in the right direction, but they were not quality strikes when they needed to be.”

Lincecum made it three batters into the fourth before Manager Mike Scioscia pulled him. The Mariners never scored another run, but his earned-run average rose to 9.16. Among the 421 major league pitchers who’ve thrown at least 20 innings this season, Lincecum’s ERA is the second-worst.

“In some areas, it looks like Tim’s taken a couple steps forward,” Scioscia said. “But as far as being able to finish hitters, he had a little trouble doing that tonight.”

Scioscia would not commit to starting Lincecum a 10th time, saying only, repeatedly, that the Angels “had to get Tim right.”

After Mike Trout launched a three-run homer in the first inning, the Angels could summon only one more hit, a solo home run by catcher Jett Bandy in the fifth.

Dickinson said by phone from Louisiana he still believes Lincecum will figure out a way out of the depths of struggle:“The intrigue may be more now, for me, because I know how bad he wants it.”


Watching from his nearby home, Lincecum’s high school coach struck a more realistic tone.

“He just doesn’t seem to have the velocity that he carried for so long,” Walker said. “It hurts to see him struggle. But at the same time, we reflect on how good he’s been. Watching him develop the way he did, we were ecstatic. Everyone told him he couldn’t make it. And, let’s be honest, there’s only so many Roger Clemens out there.”

Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @PedroMoura