Imagine that the NL is trying to protect a slender middle-inning lead. All-Star skipper Charlie Manuel of Philadelphia could summon Lincecum, the NL strikeouts leader, to fend off AL hitters for an inning or two with his crackling fastball and sinking changeup.Then, in the late innings -- or even the ninth -- Wilson could appear in his natural habitat, blowing away batters with his fastball that approaches 100 mph. Lincecum, 26, has relieved only once in 108 career Major League appearances. That was by design at Los Angeles in early April of 2008, when rain threatened to scuttle his first start of the season. "It'd be different," Lincecum admitted. "It would also be an important game, so I'd go in there and try to do my job, whatever they asked me to do." Adjusting to a different role would be easy for Lincecum, who relieved occasionally as a collegian at the University of Washington.
"I had times where I'd start on Friday and relieve on Sunday, or start on Sunday and relieve on Friday," he recalled.Moreover, Lincecum would be fresh, since he hasn't pitched since defeating Milwaukee last Wednesday. In fact, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy was prepared to use Lincecum out of the bullpen had the Giants faced one too many jams in Sunday's 6-2 victory at Washington. Rather than baby his ace hurler, Bochy would love to see Lincecum on the mound at Angel Stadium. "A guy makes the All-Star team, he should be available to play," Bochy said Monday. "You've got Lincecum fans all over the country. I'm sure they're waiting and hoping that he pitches. If the opportunity comes up, I want him to pitch." Ideally, Lincecum would be better-prepared than for any of his previous two All-Star Games. In 2008, he fell ill on the day of the game and couldn't even make it to Yankee Stadium. Last year, he was the NL's starter, which by his own admission made him overly anxious. "This is a couple of times around coming through here now," said Lincecum, who's 9-4 with a 3.16 ERA. "This year I just want to try to relax, take it easy and not put too much pressure on myself. Just do my part. Last year was a little bit more hyped up with me, a little more nerve-racking." Lincecum's also coming off a strong performance. Some skeptics questioned whether the NL's two-time reigning Cy Young Award winner deserved a spot on the All-Star squad, but Lincecum silenced the doubts with a typical performance at Milwaukee, where he limited the hard-hitting Brewers to one run and four hits while striking out 10 in seven innings. "I felt things kind of came together," said Lincecum, who has 131 strikeouts in 116 2/3 innings. "I was throwing more strikes with more authority." Wilson has maintained that kind of assertiveness through most of the season while posting a 2-0 record with a 1.91 ERA and 23 saves in 25 chances. "I'm fortunate enough to have good first-half numbers," said Wilson, 28. "It's really about the second-half numbers, though -- seeing what I can do to help our team possibly get in the postseason. That's what I'm really concerned with." Wilson was an All-Star in 2008, when he retired the only two hitters he faced. Relieving Cincinnati's Edinson Volquez to open the eighth inning with the NL clinging to a 3-2 lead, Wilson coaxed a fly to center from Chicago White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin before striking out Detroit's Carlos Guillen. Wilson recalled the experience vividly. "I remember going 2-0 -- I threw a ball in the dirt or the backstop or something -- and it was like, 'OK, this is not happening to me right now. This is a national game. I need to throw a strike.' I did, and [Quentin] popped up. Then I went 3-2 [on Guillen]. That's my standard count." NL manager Clint Hurdle then removed Wilson for Billy Wagner, who yielded the tying run. The NL proceeded to lose, 4-3, in 15 innings.
"I was kind of wondering what the heck's going on here," Wilson said of his departure. "But, whatev. It's cool."Then again, not being allowed to finish the eighth left Wilson with a definite goal for Tuesday.
"Pitching a complete inning," he said when asked what he's looking forward to in this year's Midsummer Classic. "I'd like to see what that's like."Ideally, that inning would be the ninth. "That would be great for our organization," Lincecum said. "He did a great job the last time he was here."
Referring to Wilson's crossed-arms gesture that punctuates each of his saves, Lincecum added, "Hopefully he'll throw out his little symbol. I don't know if he's going to do that here. But that would be good to see."Bochy, who's among the coaches on Manuel's All-Star staff, implied that he'll lobby for Wilson if necessary. "I'll be in his ear," Bochy said with a grin.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.