Most pitchers enjoy pitching against the Padres. San Diego’s lineup ranks last in the majors in virtually every offensive category that matters, usually by a sizeable margin: runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, fist bumps, cup adjustments, you name it. The club’s cumulative batting average, .216, is on pace to be the worst of any team's since the 1968 Yankees.
Giants starter Tim Lincecum, though, really, really likes pitching against the Padres. Last July 13, he threw his first career no-hitter against them. It took him 148 pitches, and required a spectacular diving catch by Hunter Pence at the end of the eighth inning. On Wednesday afternoon in San Francisco, Lincecum no-hit the feckless Friars again, and this time he was even more dominant. He required just 113 pitches to complete the job and walked a single batter: Chase Headley, with one out in the second inning. Headley would prove the only Padre to touch first base in a 4-0 Giants win.
Unlike last time, Lincecum’s no-no (the third in the majors this season, after those thrown by the Dodgers’ Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw) never really seemed threatened. He became the second pitcher, after Hall of Famer Addie Joss, to no-hit the same team twice.
Lincecum’s stringy mustache and soul patch make him look different than in his clean-shaven, long-haired youth -- more Geek than Freak -- but it is obvious in ways beyond his appearance that he is not the same hurler as he once was, and Wednesday’s outing underscored his transformation. When he won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and `09, at the ages of 24 and 25, he led the league in strikeouts due to a fastball that scraped the underside of 100 mph and averaged 94. He threw it around two-thirds of the time, because when you can throw a pitch like that, why would you throw something else?
On Wednesday, though, he threw his diminished heater -- which comes in four-seam and two-seam varieties -- just 39 times. According to Brooks Baseball, not one of them surpassed 93 mph, which is about par for the course for him now, 10 days past his 30th birthday.
Mostly, Lincecum relied on his breaking and off-speed stuff, and he controlled it magnificently, particularly a slider that he used to throw only a couple of hundred times a season and now deploys as frequently as his fastball. Of his 40 sliders, the pitch he threw more than any other, 29, or 72.5 percent of them, were strikes. When he had one out in the top of the ninth and was looking to close things out, he got YasmaniGrandal to ground out weakly on a slider, and then Will Venable to do the same.
Yes, the Padres represent a nice team against which to practice, but Lincecum's outing represented an exemplar as to how he might excel in the second stage of his career, now that his once preternatural stuff has clearly deserted him for good. Two years ago, it was already more or less gone, and he had no idea where to turn. His 5.18 ERA in 2012 was by far the worst among qualified National League starters. Now, though, he seems to have accepted what he has become: a command guy. The Freak now throws junk.
Most Recent No-Hitters, By Team
Tim Lincecum 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. The two-time Cy Young winner threw a career-high 148 pitches.
Homer Bailey pitched his second no-hitter in 10 months, becoming the first player in baseball to throw MLB's two most recent no-no's since Nolan Ryan in 1974-75. Bailey allowed just one walk and struck out nine against the Giants in a 3-0 win, surrendering his perfect game in the in the 7th inning when he walked Gregor Blanco. Bailey would later get Blanco to ground out in the 9th to end the game, becoming the third pitcher in Reds history to throw multiple no-hitters.
The Mariners' ace and former AL Cy Young Award winner pitched the team's first perfect game, overpowering the Tampa Bay Rays with 12 strikeouts in a brilliant 1-0 victory. The game was Seattle's second no-hitter of the season. On June 8, six pitchers -- Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen -- combined to no-hit the Dodgers in what was also a 1-0 victory.
After 35 one-hitters, the Mets finally got the first no-no in franchise history. Johan Santana, who missed all of last season while recovering from shoulder surgery, struck out eight and walked five as New York beat the Cardinals 8-0. It left the Padres as the only team without a no-hitter.
Jered Weaver pitched the 10th no-hitter in franchise history, striking out nine in a 9-0 victory over the Twins, who never came close to getting a hit. Weaver allowed just two baserunners. Chris Parmelee reached in the second inning when he struck out and advanced on Chris Iannetta's passed ball, and Josh Willingham worked a walk in the seventh. Weaver became the first Angels pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Angel Stadium since Nolan Ryan on June 1, 1975.
Philip Humber threw the first perfect game in almost two years, striking out nine for his first win of the season. It was the third perfecto in White Sox history, joining Mark Buehrle (Tampa Bay in 2009) and Charles Robertson (Detroit in 1922). Humber, a former first-round draft pick of the Mets who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005, needed only 96 pitches to complete the gem. The White Sox beat the Mariners 4-0.
Justin Verlander threw his second career no-hitter and the second in the big leagues this week, leading the Detroit Tigers to a 9-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Verlander barely missed a perfect game. The only runner he allowed came with one out in the eighth inning, when rookie J.P. Arencibia drew a 12-pitch walk. Minnesota's Francisco Liriano tossed a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3.
In his previous start Liriano had lasted three innings and his ERA had ballooned to 9.13. But he delivered the seventh no-hitter in Twins history, and the first since Eric Milton in 1999, as he struck out two and walked six in a 1-0 win over the White Sox. The 123-pitch erfort was just the first complete game of Liriano's six-year career.
Halladay threw just the second no-hitter in postseason history as the Phillies beat the Reds 4-0 in Game 1 of the NLDS. Halladay, who was making the first playoff start of his 12-year career, struck out eight and walked one on 104 pitches. He also threw a perfect game on May 29 vs. the Marlins, making him the fourth author of two no-hitter in the same season along with Nolan Ryan, Virgil Truck, Allie Reynolds and Johnny Vander Meer.
Matt Garza (center) pitched the first no-hitter in Tampa Bay Rays history and the fifth in the major leagues this season, beating the Detroit Tigers 5-0. Garza faced the minimum 27 batters, allowing only a second-inning walk, for a team that's often been on the wrong end of pitching gems lately. The last time there were at least five no-hitters in a season was 1991.
Edwin Jackson overcame a wild start to throw the fourth no-hitter of the season, leading the Diamondbacks to a 1-0 victory over the Rays. Jackson threw 149 pitches and walked eight, all but one in the first three innings, in the second no-hitter in D-backs' history.
Braden was perfect on Mother's Day, recording the first perfect game for Oakland in 42 years. He was also the beneficiary of some flashy glovework, courtesy of Kevin Kouzmanoff, who sprinted to the dirt in front of Oakland's dugout to catch a foul popup by Dioner Navarro for the second out in the sixth.
Ubaldo Jimenez pitched the first no-hitter in Rockies history, dominating the Braves in a 4-0 victory. Jimenez walked six -- all in the first five innings -- and struck out seven. He was helped by Dexter Fowler's diving catch on Troy Glaus' drive to left-center field in the seventh inning.
Pitching for the first time in nearly two weeks, Carlos Zambrano stifled the Astros en route to the Cubs' first no-hitter since Milt Pappas in 1972. The game was relocated to Milwaukee's Miller Park because of Hurricane Ike.
At 22, Lester learned he had lymphoma, but after beating the cancer, he returned to win the clinching game of the 2007 World Series. Then in May 2008, Lester no-hit the Kansas City Royals, allowing just two walks and striking out nine in one of the most inspiring comebacks in baseball history.
Sanchez, a 22-year-old rookie making his 13th major-league start, hurled a no-hitter in a 2-0 victory over the Diamondbacks.
In perhaps the most bizarre no-hitter of all-time, the Astros used a record six pitchers -- Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner -- to hold the Yankees hitless in Houston's 8-0 victory.
Smith became the 18th rookie since 1900 to throw a no-hitter, tossing a whopping 134 pitches in a 4-0 victory over the Padres. Smith made just 14 more appearances in the majors and was gone for good one year later, at 23.
With Don Larsen, the only man ever to pitch a perfect game in the World Series, on hand for Yogi Berra Day, Cone tossed a perfect game of his own, silencing the Montreal Expos in a 5-0 win. Cone survived a 30-minute rain delay in the third inning, and needed just 88 pitches to complete his perfecto, which ended when he got Orlando Cabrera to pop out to third.
Cordova, a major league starter for less than a year, pitched the first nine innings of a no-hitter against the Astros. Rincon pitched another inning of no-hit ball when the scoreless game went to the 10th. The no-hitter wasn't secured until Mark Smith's walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th.
The Japanese fireballer became the first (and last) pitcher to toss a no-hitter at hitter's haven Coors Field in a 9-0 blanking of the Rockies.
Rogers became the first AL lefty to throw a perfect game when he shut down the Angels 4-0, the first no-hitter at the brand-new Ballpark at Arlington. Center fielder Rusty Greer preserved it with a diving catch on Rex Hudler to start the ninth. Greer had a much easier time handling the final out, a routine fly ball from Gary DiSarcina.
Three years after pitching the first six innings of a no-hitter -- ultimately completed by teammates Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena -- Mercker went solo in tossing nine innings of no-hit ball in a 6-0 victory over the Dodgers.
Saberhagen had already won two Cy Young awards and pitched a shutout in the clinching Game 7 of the World Series in 1985, but had never thrown a no-hitter. He helped himself by snaring an eighth-inning line drive by Ozzie Guillen that would have been a hit. The last out was made by future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas on a ground out to second base.
While the Nationals still played north of the border as the Expos, Martinez threw the 13th perfect game in major league history in a 2-0 victory over the Dodgers.
Milacki, (inset left to right) Flanagan, Williamson and Olson combined to equal the most pitchers used for a no-hitter in American League history by blanking the A's. Olson pitched the first six innings but left after he injured his hand deflecting a ball hit by Oakland's Willie Wilson. Flanagan, Williamson and Olson each pitched one hitless inning.
Four times previously, Stieb had taken a no-hitter into the ninth. Three times he lost it with one out to go, including back-to-back starts in September 1988, the only time that's ever happened in baseball history. His luck finally changed on this night when he got Cleveland's Jeremy Browne to line to right for the final out of a 3-0 shutout. "I had much better stuff the other times, much better control. I always knew it took a lot of luck to get a no-hitter," he said afterward.
Now a coach with the White Sox, Nieves became the second-youngest pitcher in major league history to throw a no-hitter when he shut down the Orioles 7-0 at age 22. Eighteen months later, an arm injury ended his career.
With a losing career record, Barker was an otherwise forgettable pitcher, except for what he achieved in May 1981, when he pitched just the tenth perfect game ever. ''I run into people almost every day who want to talk about it,'' he said in 2006. ''Everyone says, 'You're probably tired of talking about it.' I say, 'No, it's something to be proud of.' It's a special thing.''
This, of course, is a transition that virtually all power pitchers must make at some point if they want to have very long careers. Fastballs invevitably fade, but Lincecum, due perhaps to the small stature that his critics always said would doom him, has had to make the shift earlier than most. It is still a learning process. Even this gem only cut his ERA to 4.42 (he began the day at 4.90), and lifted his record to 6-5. But it not only showed how very good, if different, he can still be, but also, as his pitch selection demonstrated, that he is now at peace with what he has become.
“It was not a stuff day,” Lincecum said after the game. “It was a location day.” Most days, from here on out, will likely be location days for him. Location days can give the Giants a desperately needed win; going into the game against San Diego they had lost 11 of their last 14 games, and had watched a 9.5 game lead in the NL West shrink to just three. Location days can also ensure that Lincecum pitches in the big leagues for a very long time.