Lincecum stirs memories of 'The Count'
Montefusco created excitement like that of young Giants ace
SAN FRANCISCO -- For an older generation of Giants fans, the buzz in the AT&T Park stands when Tim Lincecum pitches feels familiar.The added sense of excitement and anticipation recalls the enthusiasm generated in the mid-1970s by John "The Count" Montefusco, who was among the team's few sources of hope during his 1974-80 Giants tenure. Pat Gallagher, the president of Giants Enterprises who was a club executive during Montefusco's era, sees the parallels. "Over the years, there are very few pitchers that have the magic to sell tickets," Gallagher said recently. "It goes beyond people interested in baseball. It becomes a phenomenon. That's what Tim Lincecum is; that's what John Montefusco was; that's what Fernando Valenzuela was." The average paid crowd for Lincecum's nine home starts, 35,356, actually trails the Giants' per-game average of 35,539 entering Friday. But anybody who has attended one of Lincecum's outings knows that fans react to virtually each pitch he throws. And the Giants have seen fit to offer ticket discounts to each of Lincecum's scheduled home starts based on the number of strikeouts he and his relievers accumulate in his preceding outing. The tally will resume Saturday when Lincecum and the Giants oppose the Arizona Diamondbacks. Montefusco would have loved that sort of promotion. "I just wanted to put on a good show for the fans," he said. "I knew more people were coming out to see me pitch and I didn't want to disappoint them. I went out there and tried to strike everybody out for the fans. I did everything for them. We weren't drawing much. I was trying to promote the Giants." Montefusco's accomplishments included winning the 1975 National League Rookie of the Year Award and pitching a no-hitter -- the last by a Giant -- on Sept. 29, 1976, at Atlanta. He also was the Giants' only true gate attraction during those seasons. One sequence of games early in the 1976 season reflected this. Paid attendance for a Tuesday, May 18 game against San Diego at Candlestick Park was 1,634. With Montefusco on the mound the next night against the Cincinnati Reds, the Giants drew a healthy 23,591. On May 20, the defending world champions were still in town, but the paid crowd totaled just 6,439. Montefusco acknowledged that he derived extra adrenaline from the fans' attention.
"I got a lot out of that," he said. "Even when we were on the road and people were booing you, you drew off of that. And if a player tells you they don't, they're lying."Lincecum, however, sounded sincere Friday when he said that he strives to keep his emotions in check when AT&T Park patrons roar in anticipation of strike three. Otherwise, he said, "it kind of takes me out of my focus." He admitted that he occasionally gets swept away by the fans' mood, as was the case July 13 when a sellout crowd at Chicago's Wrigley Field cheered thunderously for Kosuke Fukudome when he pinch-hit with two outs in the seventh inning, one runner aboard and the Giants leading, 4-1.
"That kind of got my heart rate going," Lincecum said. Footnote: Lincecum struck out Fukudome on a 3-2 pitch.Mostly, though, Lincecum doesn't need additional juice from the audience.
"I love the game so much, I think there's enough excitement going on anyway," he said. "When we score a run and I'm not playing, I'm like, 'Yeah!'" Lincecum punched his palm with his fist for emphasis.Don't expect Lincecum to follow Montefusco's tendency of predicting victories against his next opponent.
"I understand how humbling this game can be," Lincecum said. "I don't want to test those waters."Montefusco doesn't regret his boldness. "You don't want to be boring!" he said. Through the prism of experience, Gallagher summarized the differences between the colorful right-handers. "Lincecum lets his pitching do the talking," he said. "Montefusco was fortunate he could back some of this stuff up. But the result is similar." Moreover, Lincecum has a fan in Montefusco, who has watched the 24-year-old on television.
"He's got some great stuff," Montefusco said. "If he can keep the ball down, he can be even better than he is now."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.