DETROIT – Banished to the bullpen, a two-time Cy Young Award winner has become baseball's most distinguished middle reliever.
His dark, stringy hair flopping onto his shoulders, Tim Lincecum was the ace of the staff when the Giants won the World Series two years ago for the first time since 1954.
Following his surprising season-long slump, San Francisco dropped Lincecum from its World Series rotation. Given the chance to pitch in relief, he's thrown 4 2-3 hitless innings against the Detroit Tigers and helped the Giants to a 3-0 lead with another outstanding outing in Saturday night's 2-0 win.
"The second we got that ring, it's like that taste for that next ring is just sitting right in your mouth the whole time," Lincecum said before stopping himself. "That sounds terrible. Let me rephrase that. It just leaves you wanting it even more, and if that means being a good teammate or being in the bullpen, I really don't care. I just want to win."
Lincecum has faced 16 batters and struck out eight in the World Series. The only two Tigers to reach base were on a two-out walk and an error by shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Lincecum has tied Ron Taylor of the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals for most innings by a pitcher who didn't allow a hit in a single World Series, according to STATS LLC.
Not bad given that Lincecum calls himself "a safety-net kind of thing."
"He has relished the role. That's the biggest part of it, is he accepted it and really acted like he looked forward to helping the club in that role, and that's why I think he's having success," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He didn't waver on going to the bullpen. He said, 'Yeah, I'd love to go there and help this team move forward.'"
Known for his high leg kick and unorthodox delivery, the diminutive right-hander has simplified his mechanics during the postseason, jettisoning his windup and going solely from the stretch — even with no runners on base.
"It allows me to just think about one thing, and that's sight of the target," he said. "At times it can still get away for me and I can still think about the wrong things. But most of the times it works."
After winning the NL Cy Young Award in 2009 and '10, Lincecum slumped to 13-14 in 2011 and 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA this year, the highest among qualifying NL starters.
But Bochy had a hunch about Lincecum, because of "how quick he gets loose and also how resilient he is."
"We expected it because the manager has a knack for using guys where they can do damage to stop innings," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said.
The 28-year-old Lincecum gave up four runs and lost his only postseason start, in Game 4 of the NL championship series against St. Louis, but he's allowed just one run and three hits in 13 innings of relief over five outings. He's struck out 17 coming out of the bullpen, with a 0.69 ERA.
"That's obviously a pretty nice weapon for them," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Out in the bullpen, Lincecum gets to sit alongside bearded closer Sergio Romo, part of a colorful relief corps that's known for being loosey-goosey.
"He's got the long, wacky hair on the top of his head and not in his face," Romo said. "He definitely does fit in."