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Lincecum making Cy Young push

September 21, 2008|Janie Mccauley | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- These days, even Tim Lincecum's teammates are asking for his autograph.

Catcher Bengie Molina did so just the other day, stopping by Lincecum's locker with the pitcher's card, a Sharpie pen and a protective plastic sleeve for the keepsake in hand.

Rich Aurilia plans to get something signed before the end of the season too.

Lincecum has become used to the fanfare that's surrounded his first full major league season for the San Francisco Giants. He made the NL All-Star team, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and is a Cy Young Award candidate and ace at barely 24. That's after he earned the nickname "Franchise" from his teammates last year when he broke into the big leagues only a year out of college.

A perfectionist with his share of quirks, Lincecum insists he doesn't let his mind wander to think about everything he's accomplished at such a young age. He's more interested in maintaining his focus and mechanics from pitch to pitch.

"That's just me in general," Lincecum said after a recent start. "That's the way my dad raised me: Don't get too excited about the good things or the bad things. [People] have expectations for you. You have expectations for yourself. I'm not worried about anything but making good pitches. I think about making quality pitches. You just try to keep that mentality throughout the game."

Departing Giants owner Peter Magowan considers Lincecum, chosen 10th overall in the 2006 draft from the University of Washington, the organization's top pitching prospect since Hall of Famer Juan Marichal signed with the New York Giants as an amateur free agent in 1957.

Not that you'd know it by looking at Lincecum, who is all of 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds but gutsy as all get out.

The hard-throwing right-hander has an unorthodox delivery that most pitching coaches would be hard-pressed to endorse: torquing his body, twisting his head, recoiling after his release. Lincecum says what makes it work so well is keeping his shoulder and arm on an even plane -- something his father, Chris, showed him way back when he was just learning to pitch.

"I was taught that if the level of my arm is even with my shoulders, I'll be fine," he said. "My dad told me that."

It sure works. He is the ninth Giant since 1900 to record 200 strikeouts in a season, and was leading the majors in Ks with 243 heading into the weekend after his start Thursday at Arizona. He is 17-4 with a 2.46 earned-run average and lost to the Diamondbacks despite pitching his second straight complete game, this one only eight innings -- his first defeat in two months. He's shown his durability in 215 2/3 innings this year after making 24 starts as a rookie in 2007.

"Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan were unorthodox and people couldn't do what they do," Arizona second baseman Orlando Hudson said. "He might be put right in that category one day. I like him. I hope he stays healthy. He's a guy who can be around a while and be a 15-game winner every year. He has electrifying stuff and he's like Dwight Gooden."

Lincecum is so good Giants General Manager Brian Sabean has categorized him all but untouchable when it comes to trade talks.

He has come up big following Giants' losses too, going 13-2 with a 2.82 ERA. And San Francisco has won in 16 of those 23 outings.

While Diamondbacks Manager Bob Melvin is rooting for his own Brandon Webb to win the Cy Young, he's giving Lincecum his props.

"He has had dominant stuff all year long," Melvin said. "He seems like he goes into an extra gear."

Molina, who takes losing as hard as anybody, says that winning for Lincecum has been one bright spot to focus on during yet another down season in the Bay Area.

"That's a lot of motivation right there," Molina said. "Heck yeah, I hope and wish we pull that one out -- Lincecum, Cy Young. The only thing that might surprise me about him is his heart. At the end of games, he shows even more heart."

Manager Bruce Bochy often gets booed when he removes Lincecum from games. He's come to expect it, in fact. The fans get into every pitch that leaves Lincecum's hand, from the powerful fastball he throws in the mid-90s to the curveballs and change-ups he mixes in to keep hitters off balance.

He says he doesn't pay too much attention to the cheers and regular standing ovations that come when he walks off the mound.

"He's one of those guys like 'Fernandomania,' " Arizona pitching coach Bryan Price said, referring to the hype surrounding pitcher Fernando Valenzuela with the Dodgers in the 1980s. "Beyond being able to enjoy seeing this guy do his thing, the fans get behind him. And it's very impressive for a young guy that he has his mental facilities in order. He doesn't get rattled. That changeup he's been throwing is almost a joke. When he's on, he's on."

Aurilia, in his second stint with San Francisco, figures he will follow Molina's lead and get something autographed by Lincecum soon.

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