Reliving the meteoric rise of 'The Freak'

January 19th, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO -- There are few Giants players who are more universally beloved than .

“The Freak” became a cult figure over his nine seasons with the Giants, winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2008 and ’09 and leading the National League in strikeouts in three consecutive years. He won three World Series rings, earned four All-Star selections and tossed two no-hitters with the Giants.

At his peak, Lincecum was the most captivating ace in baseball, dominating hitters with blazing fastballs and wicked offspeed pitches that belied his undersized frame. His arrival electrified San Francisco, moving the franchise past the Barry Bonds era and setting the stage for the Giants’ early-2010s championship dynasty.

Lincecum is among the 13 players to debut on the 2022 Hall of Fame ballot, though longevity issues will likely prevent him from making a serious run at enshrinement in Cooperstown. Still, Lincecum continues to hold a special spot in the hearts of Giants fans, many of whom haven’t forgotten the joy of watching the lanky right-hander deliver some of the most brilliant pitching campaigns in franchise history.

Selected with the 10th overall pick of the 2006 Draft out of the University of Washington, Lincecum was solid after debuting with the Giants in ’07, but he quickly ascended into superstardom in ’08, when he captured the first of his back-to-back Cy Young Awards.

Lincecum began his breakout season by winning his first four decisions, emerging as the 24-year-old ace of a pitching staff that included Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sánchez and Kevin Correia. Known for his violent delivery and unusual stride length, Lincecum consistently baffled hitters, racking up 10 strikeouts over six innings against the Astros on May 15.

"He has three almost unhittable pitches," Houston slugger Lance Berkman told reporters afterward. "When he throws those offspeed pitches where he wants, you've got no chance."

"He's got some of the nastiest stuff I've ever seen," added then-Astros outfielder Hunter Pence.

Lincecum’s dominance began to earn him recognition beyond the Bay Area, landing him on the cover of Sports Illustrated on July 7. He was named to his first career All-Star Game after going 11-2 with a 2.57 ERA and a Major League-best 135 strikeouts in the first half, but he ended up missing the Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium after being hospitalized with flu-like symptoms and dehydration.

Lincecum continued to roll in the second half, striking out a season-high 13 batters over seven innings against the D-backs on July 26 and tossing his first career shutout -- a four-hit, 12-strikeout gem -- against the Padres on Sept. 13. He officially entered the Giants record books when he collected his 252nd strikeout against the Rockies on Sept. 23, breaking Jason Schmidt’s single-season record for the San Francisco era.

Lincecum finished his first full Major League season 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA and a Major League-leading 265 strikeouts, serving as the bright spot of an otherwise disappointing year for the Giants.

That November, Lincecum earned NL Cy Young Award honors, winning decisively over a field that included three previous winners. He received 23 of 32 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, besting the D-backs’ Brandon Webb, the Mets’ Johan Santana and the Brewers’ CC Sabathia.

"I was more shocked than anything," Lincecum said at the time. "With the competition, I was just hoping to be in the mix. I was thinking Webb or Santana or even CC had it. As far as that goes, my reaction was, 'Woo hoo!' I literally yelled a couple of times after I got off the phone."

Lincecum became the second Giants pitcher to win the award and the first since Mike McCormick in 1967.

"You certainly were the focus of everything that was good about the Giants this year,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean told Lincecum. “The organization has a lot to be proud of because of your individual accolade. ... Your age of innocence is over. A lot is going to be expected of you now."

Lincecum, of course, didn’t disappoint. He followed up that season with another outstanding campaign in ’09, when he logged a 2.48 ERA over 225 1/3 innings to collect his second straight Cy Young Award.

From 2008-11, Lincecum earned four consecutive All-Star nods, though injuries and diminished velocity ultimately hastened his decline and derailed his Hall of Fame trajectory. He struggled to a 4.68 ERA over his final four years with the Giants before joining the Angels, who released him after he posted a 9.16 ERA over nine starts in 2016, his final Major League season.

Given his relatively short peak, Lincecum is not expected to garner enough support to build a compelling case for the Hall of Fame, but he remains a seminal figure in San Francisco history, and it’s clear his unique legacy will live on for Giants fans.

The BBWAA’s 2022 Hall of Fame class will be announced live on MLB Network on Jan. 25. Candidates must draw 75 percent of the vote for election and at least 5 percent to remain on the ballot for the following year.