When Giants manager Bruce Bochy removed Lincecum after the right-hander yielded a single and a walk to open the eighth inning, the AT&T Park crowd stood and roared for its favorite son. Lincecum typically neglects to acknowledge the fans in these instances -- not out of rudeness, but because he's obsessively focused on the game, even upon leaving it. But this time, Lincecum doffed his cap, prompting the fans to bellow even more loudly.
"I've never taken off my cap in a game before, so when I did it, it was like a button turning on the crowd," said Lincecum (15-7), who admitted that pitching coach Dave Righetti induced him to make the gesture by mimicking a hat-tipping motion. "It was pretty crazy. That was pretty cool."
This truly was a special afternoon. But Lincecum's a special pitcher. It remains to be seen whether enough members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who cast Cy Young ballots agree.
History doesn't favor Lincecum. He'd be the first starting pitcher to win the award with fewer than 16 victories. Yet if anybody can accomplish this, it's he, which happens to be the way his admirers regard him.
By many measures, Lincecum has improved upon his 2008 Cy Young-winning campaign, despite winning three fewer games. He finished this year with a 2.48 ERA, down from 2.62. Opponents hit .206 off him, compared to .221 a year ago. His WHIP -- walks and hits per innings pitched -- dwindled from 1.17 to 1.05. Rarely do ballplayers talk about their statistics, but Lincecum openly savored his tighter WHIP.
"That's a big thing for me," he said.
Lincecum struck out seven D-backs to finish with 261. That's four shy of his 2008 total and six short of Christy Mathewson's 1903 franchise record. But he still led the NL in this category, and his per-nine-inning average (10.5 last year, 10.4 in 2009) was essentially unchanged.
"Whether they were small improvements or big improvements, I just want to make any jump I can," said Lincecum, who's 5-1 with a 1.87 ERA in 10 career appearances against Arizona. "The whole point of going out there is winning or putting your team in position to win."
It's widely believed that Chris Carpenter (17-4, 2.24 ERA) or Adam Wainwright (19-8, 2.58), both of St. Louis, are the Cy Young co-favorites. But it's conceivable that some voters may ponder Lincecum's more esoteric stats and favor him.
If Lincecum had a vote, he'd choose Carpenter, who has overcome Tommy John elbow surgery in 2007 and a strained left side earlier this year.
"That shows a lot in him, to come back the way he did and keep grinding and put up pretty crazy numbers," Lincecum said. "He's put everything behind him and come out ready to pitch."
Aurilia repeatedly came out ready to play during his 14-year Major League career, 11 of which he spent with the Giants. He nearly blooped a single to center field in his final at-bat, but Chris Young made a running catch.
"I was hoping I hit it soft enough and cracked the bat enough, but it wasn't meant to be," Aurilia jokingly said.
His 0-for-4 mattered little to the fans, who cherish him as the last link to the Giants' glory days of 1997-2004. They gave him a standing ovation lasting nearly 30 seconds before his first plate appearance in the second inning, then repeated the salute before his final at-bat in the eighth. Once he returned to the dugout, they cheered him enough to require a curtain call. He ceremonially took his position in the ninth, prompting more applause after Travis Ishikawa replaced him.
"It's an honor to be here for so long and have the fans support you like that," Aurilia said.
Actually, the crowd almost never stopped cheering. San Francisco's first three hitters, Eugenio Velez, Andres Torres and Pablo Sandoval, combined to go 7-for-11 with five runs scored and three RBIs, mostly off Arizona ace Dan Haren (14-10). Torres went 3-for-4 and lacked only a double for the cycle. A remarkable stat: Torres leads the team with eight triples despite appearing in 72 games and accumulating just 140 at-bats.
The last cheers of the day were reserved for Randy Johnson, the 303-game winner who worked a scoreless ninth. But the wise 46-year-old knew who truly occupied center stage.
"Today's Richie's day and Tim's day," Johnson said.