SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum struggled through an awful August, tinkered with his mechanics and, for the first time in his baseball career, dealt with adversity this season.
Although it took longer than Lincecum and the Giants would have liked, the 26-year-old starter regained his Cy Young Award-caliber stuff and now is ready to lead the Giants in their first postseason in seven years.
Lincecum (16-10, 3.43 ERA) will take the mound Thursday against the Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, a playoff rookie facing postseason veteran Derek Lowe (16-12, 4.00), who will start for the Braves.
Game time is 6:30 p.m. PT, live on TBS.
"Obviously, it's a great opportunity for us, and it's been awhile for the Giants organization, and first for myself, first for a lot of these guys," Lincecum said Wednesday at AT&T Park before the Giants held a workout. "We're going to try to take it all in. Obviously, not try to be too wide-eyed about it, and try to stick to our game and try and treat it just like any other game."
Although Lincecum has yet to pitch in the postseason, he is no stranger to the bright lights that come with the national stage. In 2009, he was chosen to start the All-Star Game in St. Louis, but his pitching line -- two runs (one earned) in two innings -- wasn't what was expected from one of the game's top young arms.
2010: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 ERA
Career: 8 GS, 5-1, 1.98 ERA
2010: 17 GS, 9-7, 3.69 ERA Career: 62 GS, 30-15, 3.06 ERA
Against this opponent
2010: 2 GS, 2-0, 2.38 ERA
Career: 17 GS, 7-5, 3.02 ERA
2010: 2 GS, 1-1, 3.38 ERA Career: 8 GS, 6-2, 2.89 ERA
Loves to face: Jose Guillen (3-for-20, 7 Ks) Hates to face: Aubrey Huff (10-for-40, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs)
Loves to face: Rick Ankiel (2-for-12, 3 Ks)
Hates to face: Brian McCann (8-for-22, 3 doubles, 1 HR)
Why he'll win: 5-0, 1.17 ERA in Sept.
Why he'll win: 52 Sept. strikeouts
Pitcher beware: 9 HR allowed in postseason
Pitcher beware: First postseason start
Bottom line: Savvy veteran
Bottom line: He's back on track
After his All-Star experience, which included giving up a single to the leadoff hitter and hitting the next batter, Lincecum admitted he felt a bit of nerves in the Midsummer Classic. On Wednesday, the eve of his biggest game to date, Lincecum said he was better for the experience.
"Definitely," Lincecum said. "I don't think it can hurt me, obviously, but going through that kind of amped atmosphere, a lot of fans, a lot of people there to see you do your thing, same kind of scenario here. So it will help me a little bit. Just try to keep myself in check and just try to keep my heart rate down."
While Bay Area fans and Lincecum himself spent August constantly wondering what had happened to the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, there was a widespread perception among opposing managers that Lincecum would simply snap out of his funk.
After an August in which he posted an ERA of 7.82, Lincecum did just that, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA in September. Because of Lincecum's history and recent turnaround, as well as his career numbers against Atlanta (6-2, 2.89 in eight starts), Braves manager Bobby Cox is well aware of how tough a challenge Lincecum will be for his lineup.
"He's got as good of pitches as you ever want to see with a pitcher," Cox said. "Most of the time he has great location and he's a great competitor. ... He's won back-to-back Cy Youngs. And he's the pitcher that everybody thinks [he] is. I can't say enough about the guy. And if he makes mistakes like any pitcher, we have to hit him."
For all of Lincecum's changes this past season, one thing has remained the same: his ability to cause hitters to swing and miss.
Despite posting the highest ERA of his career, Lincecum once again lead the National League in strikeouts, the third consecutive time he's done so. And while Lincecum certainly isn't the quintessential power pitcher, he is the ace of a superb staff that will need continued dominance in hopes of the Giants advancing.
"It's all about pitching," Giants center fielder Aaron Rowand said. "Whichever team pitches and plays defense typically comes out on top in the postseason."
On Thursday night, Lincecum will try to start the Giants off right as they begin the quest for their first World Series title in San Francisco history. He's accomplished a lot in his three full seasons in the Majors, but, like with so many of his fellow Giants starters, there is a lack of experience on his resume.
All Lincecum will rely on is what he knows, and that's the last time he was pitching under the bright lights of the All-Star Game. Then, he was nervous. On Thursday, he's hoping to channel that experience and remain calm.
"Everybody knows what's at stake, important games, and we've never had to deal with that into September before," Lincecum said. "Dealing with [the All-Star Game] should help."
Cash Kruth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.