DETROIT (Reuters) - While many starting pitchers would consider getting banished to the bullpen a demotion, Tim Lincecum has embraced his new role as a key reason the San Francisco Giants are on the brink of a World Series title.
Lincecum, a Cy Young Award winner in 2008 and 2009 and arguably baseball’s best pitcher, was 10-15 this year with a 5.18 ERA before being yanked from the rotation for the playoffs.
But the long-haired, flame-thrower known as “The Freak” made the most of the move and has given the Giants a new dimension as the set-up man for closer Sergio Romo.
In Game Three of the World Series on Saturday, Lincecum came in for starter Ryan Vogelsong with the mission of protecting the Giants’ precarious 2-0 lead over the Detroit Tigers.
He pitched 2 1/3 innings of hitless ball before handing off to Romo, who closed out a perfect ninth.
The result is a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, putting the Giants within one victory of their second title in three years.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy called the 28-year-old Lincecum’s performance Saturday “tremendous”.
”He has relished the role,“ Bochy said of the right-hander’s bullpen duties. ”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.
“That’s why I think he’s having success. He didn’t waver on going to the bullpen. He said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to go there and help this team move forward.'”
Lincecum pitched 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief in Wednesday’s opening game of the World Series, striking out five.
“Just being able to contribute is the biggest thing for me,” he said.
“This season I didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do, so to go out there and just to be able to do something for the team, whether it’s for two innings or an inning or four innings, that’s really my goal.”
Despite the success, Bochy is adamant that Lincecum’s bullpen career will be short-lived.
”It just so happened it worked out that we thought he could really help us in the bullpen, which he’s done an amazing job,“ Bochy added. ”But he’s a starter, and that’s where he’s going next year.
“When you have the talent that he has, it’s nice to have the ability to go either way but I assure you, he’s going to be in the rotation next year.”
The Giants can wrap up the title with a victory in Game Four on Sunday at Comerica Park.
Editing by John O'Brien