It was Clockwork Orange for Tim Lincecum once again Friday night by the Bay. Wearing bright orange jerseys, the Giants took down the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1.
It’s still early in the season. The races are close. Teams are trying to find their identities as May waits in the shadows. So, last night’s game seems like just another game. The Giants won. The Cardinals lost. No big deal. They’ll both be back under the lights later tonight. But last night was special because of another matchup.
Tim Lincecum vs. Albert Pujols. The best vs. the best. Greatness on the mound against greatness in the batter’s box. It’s the stuff with which legends are made. It’s history happening before our very eyes.
Forget about the score and the month and the stakes. These opportunities don’t come knocking often. The best of the era face off – mano y mano. Lincecum’s arm vs. Pujols’ bat. Think about it.
The two-time defending Cy Young award winner vs. the two-time defending MVP. It’s never happened. Two of the best in the game in their prime going head to head. While the game may have seemed anticlimactic, the stars didn’t disappoint.
In the first clash, Pujols won. He roped a double to deep center in the first. Pujols avoided an epic duel by jumping on the first pitch of the at bat. Why let the master settle in to his game plan, right? The aggressive batter took round one, but Lincecum escaped the inning unscathed.
Fast-forward to the third frame for round two. Lincecum fires a ball to keep Pujols in the box for a while. Pujols couldn’t be contained too long as he took his hack on the next pitch. It was a disappointing pop-up to second base. We’ll call this one a draw. Lincecum made the pitch, Pujols missed. Another meeting in the books with room for one more.
It came in the sixth with San Francisco out in front 4-0. Lincecum was cruising. St. Louis needed a spark. Who better than Pujols to get things going? From Lincecum’s viewpoint, if he could get past Pujols, the Cards climb would be that much steeper. It was time to make a statement. He started him with a ball. And then, The Freak blew The Machine away on the next three pitches. On a night in which he struck out eight, none was bigger than that one. The final three innings were set up nicely for him and the bullpen to finish off.
Lincecum is now 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA. Another Cy Young could be in his near future. For Pujols, another MVP is always just a hot streak away. And the heat is always near.
The similarities go much deeper than greatness.
Pujols started the season with five home runs in seven games. He was outdoing the entire Houston Astros team in every major offensive category during that first week. It was typical Pujols. He is too good.
Pujols disagreed. Even though he was off to the best start of his career, he wasn’t satisfied. He said he didn’t feel comfortable at the plate just yet. Crazy, right? Most guys would kill to be half as good as him. And they would surely be happy. Not Albert. He is always finding a way to get better. It’s scary, but it’s true. The best player in the game – with a legitimate shot to be the greatest of all-time – is still finding flaws in his game. Most would be hard pressed to find a problem with his swing and approach. Pujols would be hard pressed not to find a problem.
It’s mind-boggling. It’s greatness.
Tim Lincecum is twisting and firing his way through the competition again in 2010. He hasn’t been challenged yet. Another 20 wins and a Cy Young seem to be locks. He must be happy, though, right? Pujols is just crazy. Wrong. Lincecum is just as crazy. He is The Freak, after all. For all his success, he’s finding more and more ways to improve like Pujols. Last year, after his first Cy Young season, Lincecum came into the year with a better change-up. He could throw the pitch different ways with sinking action to keep hitters off balance. The early verdict: not fair! His change-up stifled the opposition all year. And, oh yeah, he still had that fastball and curve that he could break off whenever he wanted. This year, he toyed with his breaking pitches to get more tilt. He’s still getting better. He still sees ways to get better when most wouldn’t – or wouldn’t care.
It’s mind-boggling. It’s greatness.
These two superstars are at the top of their profession at the same time. And they’re rising to new heights every year. It’s a treat to watch. It’s really special when they get the chance to challenge each other. How many times do we wish Ted Williams could have faced Bob Gibson? Or Babe Ruth could have squared off against Nolan Ryan? They’re fascinating scenarios. But they’re only fantasies. We can play them out in our minds, in stat books, and in computer simulations, but we’ll never actually see it happen.
In 2010, we don’t have to dream. We don’t have to crunch numbers or pull out the Xbox to pit the best against the best. It’s happening. It’s real. Albert Pujols is the best. He could be the best ever. Same goes for Tim Lincecum. And we get to watch them go at it from time to time.
Like clockwork, Lincecum and Pujols are working to get better. This epic is still being written with more conflicts and stories to add to the plot.
The next stanza could come in August when the Giants come to St. Louis. Until then, they get to drive their inferior opponents crazy and leave countless fans awe-struck.