I finally my first playoff action of the year, and I was welcomed by an incredible outing from Tim Lincecum. Another guy making his first playoff appearance the seemed undeterred, he went the distance, striking out 14 Braves in a 1-0 thriller.
My first thought was that I loved seeing Lincecum go out there for the ninth inning. There was some talk on the broadcast about his pitch count being high, and I'm sure it was, but who cares? In my view, the whole point of limiting innings and pitch counts in the regular season is so that a team does not have to worry about either in the playoffs. Tiny Tim was dealing, and he not only deserved to finish what he started, he was the best choice for San Francisco's chances to win.
My second thought was that I never remember Tim Lincecum throwing a slider like he had tonight. Granted, I don't get to see Lincecum nearly as much as I would like to, but it seems to be his latest evolution. He came into the league with a classic power fastball, power curve mix. Now those have given way to a devastating change-up, and at least tonight, an overpowering slider. What I think made those two pitches especially deadly is that they were the same speed, but the move laterally quite differently.
My third thought was about Lincecum's change up, and the evolution of the change up in baseball. There is only a six to seven mile-an-hour difference between Lincecum's fastball and change up at this point, yet there is an argument that his change up is among the best pitches in all of baseball. When King Felix is really humming, his change up is also deadly, and it is often only about five miles an hour slower than his fastball. It used to be thought that a change up had to be around 10 miles an hour slower than a fastball to really be effective. The change up used to be about a change of speed, but now there are effective ones that rely on movement.
Follow-up to my third thought: The future of off speed pitches might be in cutters and change-ups. They are around already, but I'm talking about these two pitches replacing sliders and curveballs as the mainstream breaking balls. If I were a Little League coach, I would teach the cutter and change-up to every kid. They tail in opposite directions, even have slightly different speeds, yet both have the seam rotation of four-seam fastballs if thrown properly. A kid could work on those pitches without the same injury and development risks that come with traditional breaking balls, and ride that repertoire all the way to the Major Leagues.
Lastly, was Lincecum's start more impressive than Halladay's no-hitter from yesterday? It is not more historic (though Tim now holds the Giants record for most strikeouts in a postseason game), but there is an argument to be made. Lincecum's strikeout total dwarfs Halladay's. Tim also never had the luxury of a four-run lead. That shows up in their two WPAs; Lincecum tallied a .711, whereas Halladay got "only" .323. Then again, maybe the circumstances make Halladay's no-hitter just that much more amazing. With a bigger lead, he likely pitched even more aggressively in the strike zone, and yet the Reds still couldn't square up his offerings.
Really, the fact that we can debate over which start was better means that we are the ultimate winners.