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Up or down, Lincecum steady as can be

Up or down, Lincecum steady as can be

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the Giants toiled their way through a trying 2007 season, the Barry Bonds Era was in its last swings of powering baseballs into McCovey Cove and a much different Giants icon was emerging from the mound at AT&T Park.

Then barely a year out of the University of Washington, a whirligig of a right-hander began to stand out on the Major League stage. Soon, a 5-foot-11 youngster with a slight build and an impish grin would be the new face of the Giants franchise.

Tim Lincecum has been all that and more since then, winning two National League Cy Young Awards, racking up three straight strikeout titles and leading the Giants to their first World Series berth since 2002, when Bonds was at his powerful peak.

And as Lincecum assumes his latest, greatest assignment -- taking the ball for Game 1 of the World Series against Rangers left-hander Cliff Lee on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. PT -- there isn't a soul in orange and black anything less than thrilled with the prospect of seeing their Timmy throwing the first pitch, and they hope another hundred or so, in the Fall Classic.

With No. 55 spinning his spine, dropping his hand to his side and unleashing his unique and effective delivery to the plate, San Francisco's favorite adopted son -- or, as he might prefer, new best friend -- will be the center of attention and adoration.

Affectionately known as "The Freak," Lincecum has been embraced by San Francisco like the fog envelops the city's skyline, and he feels the love.

"Yeah, this city has taken me in kind of like -- I wouldn't say a son, just because I'm not that young -- but just as one of their own," the 26-year-old pitcher said as the Giants continued their ascension to the Fall Classic. "Even in my mistakes and my faults and things that I've said wrong or done wrong, they've accepted me and still rooted us on and rooted myself on.

Tale of the Tape:
World Series Game 1
2010 Regular Season
Overall: 28 GS, 12-9, 3.18 ERA, 18 BB, 185 Ks
Overall: 33 GS, 16-10, 3.43 ERA, 76 BB, 231 Ks
Key stat: Major League-leading 1.003 WHIP
Key stat: 1.94 September ERA
Postseason
2010: 3 GS, 3-0, 0.75 ERA
Career: 8 GS, 7-0, 1.26 ERA
2010: 4 G, 3 GS, 2-1, 1.93 ERA
Career: 4 G, 3 GS, 2-1, 1.93 ERA
At AT&T Park
2010: N/A Career: 2 GS, 2-0, 1.13 ERA
2010: 19 GS, 10-8, 3.33 ERA Career: 64 GS, 31-16, 2.99 ERA
Against this opponent
2010: N/A Career: 3 GS, 3-0, 1.13 ERA
2010: N/A Career: N/A
Loves to face: Edgar Renteria (4-for-17)
Hates to face: Juan Uribe (11-for-37, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs)
Loves to face: Jeff Francoeur (3-for-16)
Hates to face: Vladimir Guerrero (1-for-1)
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: October wonder hasn't lost yet
Why he'll win: Four nasty pitches he's comfortable with
Pitcher beware: One bad pitch could mean a loss in a tight ballgame
Pitcher beware: Can he stay calm?
Bottom line: Unbeaten
Bottom line: "The Freak"

"So I can't say enough about the city. It's been great to me, the opportunities I've had here, the way people have embraced me. It's been great."

Lincecum's 2010 season has only embossed his status more, as the right-hander fought through the first adversity he'd faced in the Majors -- going 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA in August, following a rough road earlier in the season -- and responded with a remarkable September run followed by three excellent efforts in the postseason. He began with a 14-strikeout two-hitter against the Braves, split two meetings with Phillies ace Roy Halladay and took one for the team by facing three batters in the eighth inning of the NL pennant-clinching Game 6 of the NLCS.

"Timmy, really, I think has matured so much -- not just as a pitcher, but how he handles things," said Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, who has managed Lincecum since he came to San Francisco in 2007. "And when you're tested, you only get stronger, and he was certainly tested a couple of months ago.

"I know there were questions about where Timmy was physically, mentally and we all have our ups and downs. I've talked about this many times, and what's important is how you deal with it. Timmy just hasn't had to deal with the down periods very often.

"I think coming out of that, he's even stronger in how he handles things and his perspective on everything, and he's, I think, a better player because of what he went through."

With his long mane flowing in the bayside breeze and his delivery quirky in a town known for its eccentricity, Lincecum looks right at home as the face of the Giants franchise.

But he also has the personality to make his stardom work. For a San Francisco-area product like outfielder Nate Schierholtz, who was in high school cheering on the last World Series Giants, he knows it's a perfect fit, this intriguing pitcher and this interesting city by the bay.

"I'd say it's primarily a laid-back city, and I really think it does fit Tim's personality a lot," Schierholtz said. "He's from the West Coast, from up north, and I know he likes it here a lot. It's familiar to him in a lot of ways, and I think the city's really embraced him since he came up as a big prospect. I played with him in Triple-A and up in the big leagues in '07, and as soon as he got here, he made a pretty good first impression on people. It's hard not to like him."

Lincecum hasn't been perfect -- he had a well-publicized traffic stop involving marijuana in his home state of Washington last winter -- but as a representative of the team on the field, Lincecum has been nothing but exemplary.

"I think he just insulates himself really well, and that's an important factor when you have some notoriety," said Giants veteran left-hander Barry Zito. "You just wanted to stay in your bubble, and Tim's been very good at that."

Said Schierholtz: "He hasn't changed at all, which is big for his teammates. We all pull for him, and we all have his back every day he pitches. He's a good teammate on the field and he's a good person off it, and that goes a long way."

Everybody loves Timmy, or Big-Time Timmy Jim, as he lampooned himself on an ESPN commercial. They love the motion, they love the results. They even love the hair.

Yes, you too can get a Lincecum wig, somewhat approved by the actual wearer of the actual hair.

"The wigs? I've seen a lot of them, and, I don't know, they asked me how close it was to resembling my hair, and I gave them the OK, but I don't know how close it is," Lincecum said with a trademark shrug.

Ah, but the real deal will be flowing in the breeze on a late October night on Wednesday, and "The Freak" will be planting the Giants' flag on the mound at AT&T Park.

This peak on Lincecum's wild ride in San Francisco is something no Giants fan could have predicted when the right-hander arrived in 2007, not even Lincecum himself.

And like the city has done with him, Lincecum is embracing the opportunity.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," Lincecum said. "Prior to this year, I didn't know if we'd ever get here or what was going to happen or how far we'd get, but we got the right tools and brought the right people in at the right time, and we're here now."

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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