SAN DIEGO – The Freak is back.
Tim Lincecum tossed aside his recent struggles and pitched his first career no-hitter and the second in the majors in 11 days, a gem saved by a spectacular diving catch by right fielder Hunter Pence in the San Francisco Giants’ 9-0 win over last-place San Diego late Saturday night.
Lincecum has won two Cy Young Awards and two World Series rings. Now he has something really remarkable – a no-hitter in which he threw a whopping career-high 148 pitches.
“Right now I think I’m just kind of coming down and don’t know where to be emotionally,” a calm Lincecum said.
The slightly built right-hander was in control from his first pitch until his last, which settled into left fielder Gregor Blanco’s glove and set off a wild celebration in front of a pro-Giants crowd at Petco Park.
Catcher Buster Posey wrapped Lincecum (5-9) in a bear hug and lifted him off the ground. Lincecum was then mobbed by his teammates behind the mound and doused with water.
Blanco, who caught Yonder Alonso’s fly ball to end the game, found Lincecum in the mob and handed him the ball.
Lincecum, who witnessed Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter against San Diego in 2009 and Matt Cain’s perfect game last year, was given a champagne shower by his teammates in the clubhouse.
“It’s pretty surreal for me just to be part of that,” Lincecum said. “Obviously I got to see a couple with Jonathan’s and Cain’s perfect game, but to be in the middle of it is a little different. I think I’m still kind of pinching myself right now.”
Lincecum struck out 13. He walked four and hit a batter.
Still, he needed some help to preserve his no-no. Pence caught Alexi Amarista’s sinking liner with a full dive to end the eighth. Lincecum pumped his fist as Pence excitedly jumped up and with the ball in his glove. Amarista put his hands to his helmet and pulled it off in disgust.
“That was really special. To be honest with you, I thought that was a hit off the bat by Amarista,” Lincecum said. “But Hunter comes flying out of nowhere and makes the Superman catch. That was awesome.”
Pence said he “just laid out and reached as far as I could and happened to just get there. I would say the whole game was one of the greatest feelings and greatest things to be a part of.”
Said Amarista: “He got to the ball.”
Lincecum’s 148 pitches were the second most thrown in a no-hitter since at least 1988, according to STATS.
Edwin Jackson needed 149 pitches for his no-no for Arizona in 2010.
Lincecum had 103 going into the seventh and might’ve saved his shot at history with an 11-pitch inning.
“You don’t see a pitcher up over 140 pitches in a no-hitter often,” Posey said. “You get fatigued.”
Posey noted that Lincecum threw more than 200 pitches all night, including 40 in the bullpen warming up pregame and then eight pitches before each inning.
“It takes a toll on your body, so for him to be able to continue to execute pitches is remarkable,” the catcher said.
Manager Bruce Bochy said he had pitching coach Dave Righetti – who threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees on July 4, 1983 – check on Lincecum the last few innings.
“I’m superstitious at that point,” Bochy said. “I’m not going to say anything. There was no way he was coming out. I was just praying he didn’t hit the 150 mark.
“He was just right on all night with all his pitches,” Bochy said.
Lincecum was in a season-long funk. He was the loser when Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey no-hit the Giants on July 2.
Pablo Sandoval did his part, too, when he made a nice backhanded play on pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman’s grounder deep behind third base and threw him out for the third out of the seventh.
Lincecum had been struggling coming in, losing his previous four decisions and hadn’t won since June 4 against Toronto. He hadn’t won on the road since April 3 at the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then again, he’d gotten only 12 runs of support in his last 10 starts.
The crowd gave Lincecum a standing ovation as he headed to the mound for the ninth.
Lincecum struck out Chase Headley and then retired Carlos Quentin and Alonso on fly balls to left.
Lincecum tossed the 15th no-hitter in franchise history and seventh since the Giants moved to San Francisco after the 1957 season. Matt Cain was perfect last June.
The Padres remain the only team without a no-hitter.
Lincecum lost 15 games last year and ended the season as a reliever – and a reliable one at that. He cut his hair short in the offseason, a new look as he started anew. He worked out with a personal trainer during the winter to add about 10 pounds of strength, and tweaked his mechanics.
Padres manager Bud Black said Lincecum was mixing his fastball, splitter, curve and cutter.
“He’s evolved,” Black said. “He knows how to pitch. He keeps his poise. He has us off-balance all night.”
The Padres lost for the 18th time in 21 games and dropped a season-high 13 games under .500.
“We haven’t been swinging the bats like we’re capable,” Black said. “We’re not pitching. There’s a lot of things we’re not doing well. The last 2 ½ weeks have been unacceptable. We just haven’t gotten it done.”
While Lincecum dominated the Padres, the Giants jumped all over San Diego’s Edinson Volquez (6-8).
Posey and Sandoval had three hits apiece. Pence hit a three-run double and finished with four RBIs against Volquez, and then homered off Joe Thatcher leading off the eighth.
Brandon Belt hit a two-run home run an estimated 414 feet into the sandy play area beyond the fence in right-center in the fourth inning.
Volquez allowed eight runs and nine hits in five innings, struck out six and walked one. He threw 107 pitches.
NOTES: The four-game series concludes Sunday with a matchup of lefties. Barry Zito, who went to high school in San Diego, is scheduled to start for San Francisco and Eric Stults is scheduled to start for the Padres.