Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are only five months apart in age — Lincecum will be 29 in May, Cain in October — but they are worlds apart in personality.
This was obvious five years ago when the Giants hosted a media lunch at a bar/restaurant across the site from where Seals Stadium had stood in 1958 when the Giants played their first season in San Francisco.
Cain was very poised as he spoke to the media, praising the former Giants in the room, including Orlando Cepeda, who was National League Rookie of the Year in 1958. He noted that the first generation of San Francisco Giants had started their tradition and he hoped that the current Giants would start their own. That has since happened with World Series championships in 2010 and 2012.
Lincecum had three years of college while Cain’s formal education ended in high school, but “The Freak” could hardly speak when he got up. That was no surprise to those who had tried to interview him and found him strangely inarticulate.
Their careers since have mirrored their personalities.
Cain has been steady-as-you-go with consistent performances. His excellence has not always been reflected in his win-loss record because of often poor run support, about which he has never complained. The Giants recognized what he has meant to the team, though, and rewarded him with a lucrative long-term contract just before the start of the 2012 season. He rewarded them with his best season, which included a perfect game.
Long-term contracts, especially for pitchers, are often risky ventures, but the Giants knew Cain is a solid citizen. He got married after the 2009 season, and the couple have one child.
Lincecum has had more spectacular seasons, including two in which he won the NL Cy Young Award, but his career went on a downhill slide last year. In retrospect, it appears he did not take his offseason conditioning seriously and lost strength as the season progressed. He ended with some brilliant work out of the bullpen in the World Series, but for the Giants to have a chance to repeat or even just get back to the postseason, he must regain his ability to be a top-flight starting pitcher.
It seems Lincecum learned some tough life lessons last season. He has gotten serious about his offseason work and gained some much-needed weight for his thin frame. His unusual motion, designed by his father, gives him the ability to throw mid-’90s fastballs, along with a bewildering array of other pitches when he’s right, but it’s also capable of wearing down, as it did last season.
He also made some changes in his appearance, cutting the long, stringy hair which hung down around his face, which is another indication that he’s maturing.
In the past, Lincecum has resisted the Giants’ attempt to sign him to a long-term contract. If he can’t return to his pre-2012 form, they may be happy about that, but I’m sure they’d rather see him return to the dominating form of his Cy Young seasons. Then, they’d be happy to reward him financially, and the Cain-Lincecum odd couple could continue to lead the team forward.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.