Tim Lincecum started his major league career with the San Francisco Giants on May 6, 2007, which coincided with Willie Mays' 76th birthday. After a significant hip injury, he restarted his career on May 6 of this year (Mays' 85th birthday), when he pitched in a showcase for scouts in Arizona to see which team would offer him a contract.
"It felt good just getting back on the mound, but it was nerve-wracking because it wasn't something I had to do for a while," Lincecum said last week after pitching for the Angels' Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake City Bees, in his first game since June 2015. "It was a little different scenario, but it worked out well and I handled it well."
After a "handful of teams" expressed interest, Lincecum signed a deal with the Los Angeles Angels in what he says was an easy choice. "I want to be a starter and want to keep that role established," he said. "A lot of other teams didn't see me as that, so it was like a no-doubter. And I'm a West Coast guy."
He most definitely is. Lincecum grew up in a Seattle suburb, pitched for the University of Washington and became a legend in San Francisco, beginning with his big league debut, when he received three standing ovations from the hometown crowd despite allowing five runs in less than five innings.
The fans had good reason to be excited, though. The next year, Lincecum won the Cy Young Award with an 18-5 record, a 2.62 ERA and a league-leading 265 strikeouts. He won his second Cy Young the following season in 2009. He led the Giants to their first world championship in San Francisco the year after that, striking out 14 batters in a National League Division Series shutout against Philadelphia and then winning the first and final games of the World Series. He helped them to two more World Series titles and threw two no-hitters.
His career began to slide in 2012, however, when he went 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA. His velocity began to drop from the upper 90s eventually into the mid-80s, and his ERA remained above 4.00 each year. Although he still had stretches of success, hip surgery this past September ended his nine-year career with the Giants.
After so many seasons, parting ways with San Francisco -- "It will always be the town I gravitate to" -- and recovering from hip surgery "put me in limbo a little bit," Lincecum said. He did stop by the Giants' clubhouse a few times this spring to see his former teammates.
"It was hard because I was in Arizona for nine months, all through spring training and before," he said of his comeback. "It was tough because all those games are going on and you're just wishing you could be out there and be with your teammates. It was unfamiliar, but I had a lot of focus on keeping busy."
When he finally took the mound again this past Thursday, Lincecum was not wearing his familiar No. 55 but rather No. 24 (Mays' old number). He allowed three runs on three hits and three walks in five innings against the Tacoma Rainiers, but he improved significantly as the game went on, finishing with five strikeouts.
"I think he threw the ball fine," said Bud Black, the Angels' special assistant to the general manager. "You could tell he might have been a little rusty the first innings but he looked good physically. The hip injury didn't seem to be an issue and his arm motion looked the same. He was throwing 90 miles and his secondary pitches looked fine. He just needs to build some stamina."
After Lincecum pitches his next game Tuesday, Black says the team will evaluate how he is doing and where the big league club is at the time before deciding when it's time to call him up.
Lincecum is determined to make that happen soon. Despite his two Cy Youngs, three World Series rings, nearly $100 million in earnings and his 32nd birthday on June 15, he says giving up his baseball career was never a consideration.
"I really don't want to stop," he said. "I think you have an itch for the game and when you have an opportunity like that, and an open door with the Angels, and with the doctor making my hip as well as it is, it leaves you not wanting to do nothing. It would be a waste. ...
"I want to go out there and help my team win every day. Those are givens, standards. But as far as the overall goal, it's hard to say. I don't know what to expect right now. I'm kind of reinventing myself. Yeah, I have a new hip, but I'm not 23, either. It's still about learning how to pitch, but it's also another angle and perspective on the game, having the experience I do. But also having a new opportunity."