Spander: Don’t judge Lincecum just yet

It is a baseball axiom not to get worked up about what happens individually in March, or if a team is out of a pennant race in September. So we exhale after reviewing Tim Lincecum’s spring.

But then how do we react about Jonathan Sanchez?

On Monday, Sanchez struck out 11 in six innings of the exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers. What does that tell you? More, the Giants hope, than Lincecum’s rather perplexing statistics.

After he pitched Saturday, Lincecum had an earned run average of 6.94 in three starts and 11²⁄³ innings. Awful. Unless compared to the 9.39 ERA compiled in two earlier games.

“I’m progressing a little slower than I wanted to,” was Lincecum’s comment. And here in the Bay Area, where life is not tied to dropped flies or fumbled punts, we shrug.

But if Lincecum, with his new $23 million contract, were, say, with the N.Y. Yankees, as Joba Chamberlain, the reaction would have been much more volatile.

When Chamberlain was less than impressive two weeks back, the three New York tabloids responded as if the subway system had been shut down.

“JOBA THE RUT,” was the back page Daily News headline. “SLAMMED,” said The Post. “Starting to Worry,” Newsday advised. 

This for a game which seemingly doesn’t count.

Except in New York, where everything counts. As a baseball writer there pointed out correctly, in NYC they don’t have games, they have 162 incidents.

Are we better off or worse for the comparison with Gotham? Would the Giants and A’s benefit from the panic treatment? “TIMMY TERRIBLE.” You like that one?

It might have Larry Baer and Bill Neukom choking on their garlic fries or else trying to choke the journalist who conceived the line, especially since Lincecum hasn’t even made it to the regular season.

Young Tim has won consecutive Cy Young Awards. His face is on banners and the side of buses. He’s called “The Franchise,” or considering his rather unorthodox windup and delivery, “The Freak.”

If, perchance, this exhibition performance lasts for a while, what he’ll be doing is freaking out management. That shouldn’t happen, but history warns of players who receive large salaries and then attempt to prove they are worth the money by pressing the issue.

Lincecum appears unaffected by the new money, just the same kid with the long hair. Yet, a 6.94 ERA even in the Cactus League isn’t quite what Tim or Los Gigantes would prefer.

The AT&T guys don’t carry anything like the Curse of the Bambino or, as is the case up there on Lake Michigan, the Billy Goat. But Giants fans have known their share of agony, from Willie Mac’s line drive to Bobby Richardson to that dreaded Game 6 against the Angels in ’02.

This season of 2010 is supposed to be a renaissance, a chance to catch the Dodgers, to return to the postseason. What Sanchez, after previously pitching poorly, did on Monday makes the wish seem possible. What Lincecum has done so far makes you wonder.

Will it be too much for Tim? Or is it too much for us? Lincecum has been there and done plenty, but Giants fans have had plenty done to them, and most has been historically painful.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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