Memorial showdown: Ubaldo vs. Lincecum
Cy Young wielder meets early frontrunner in San Francisco
The ultimate compliment paid in Major League clubhouses to admired peers goes something like this: "I'd pay to see him pitch."If so, players from both dugouts should pass through turnstiles on their way to the AT&T Park field on Monday afternoon. Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez against San Francisco's Tim Lincecum. The Marvel vs. The Freak. Heir apparent vs. double-Cy. Memorial Day going on Memorable Day? "If you're anywhere in the locale," suggested Colorado manager Jim Tracy, "you probably want to pay for a ticket to see that." What price virtuosity? Jimenez is 9-1 with an 0.88 ERA and invades the city that last housed a comparable start: The Giants' Juan Marichal, in 1966, was the last pitcher to hold a sub-1.00 ERA after 10 starts. San Francisco fans have been expressing angst over Lincecum, because he has issued five walks in each of his past three starts and lost his most recent. Poor guy, his ERA is all the way up to 3.00. Between them, Jimenez and Lincecum are 14-2 and have struck out 141 batters in 137 1/3 innings. "I think," said Miguel Olivo, the onetime American Leaguer who will be catching Jimenez, "I'm more excited than him. I've never faced Lincecum." "Everybody wants to watch that game," said Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. "I'm excited. I'm looking forward because Ubaldo, they're going to have to hit him. He's not the same guy from last year. He faced Lincecum before and it was very tough for him. But this time it's going to be very interesting to be able to watch that game." As Gonzalez noted, this will not be the right-handers' first meeting. But it will be their first encounter since Jimenez's emergence as the Majors' early season pitching sensation. The results of their four prior duels belie pitchers' claims of not being aware or concerned about their mound opponents, and only raise expectations of how high Jimenez and Lincecum could elevate their games. The Rockies won three of those four -- two each in Coors Field and in AT&T Park -- but both pitchers have excelled. Lincecum, 19 hits and nine runs in 26 1/3 innings (3.08 ERA), with 33 strikeouts. Jimenez, 21 hits and seven runs in 28 innings (2.25 ERA), with 20 strikeouts. Sticking to that pitchers' code, Jimenez said of the showdown with Lincecum, "I'm not trying to beat him. The only thing I'm going to do is be out there for my team. I'm not competing against any pitcher, just for my team." He did, however, concede the game transcends the routine. "When you've got a game like that and you're facing one of the best pitchers in the game, everything is better," Jimenez said. "Everyone is [anticipating] that game -- our hitters, their hitters. We're going to be out there competing." Lincecum's adrenaline-spout will be tuned to "high." He has always responded to circumstances. It is just a natural reflex he doesn't particularly like, but can't deny. "When the pressure seems to turn on, that's when I turn on more," he admitted. "I wish it didn't take getting to that point, but ... I kind of dial in a little bit more and lock in a little bit more. "I don't really get excited for games usually until I'm in them, but I'm not too worried about the matchup or more amped up or anything." That would put Lincecum in a minority. "When you see pitchers like that -- Jimenez, [Zack] Greinke, Lincecum, [Roy] Halladay -- the fans never give up. They don't leave," Olivo said. "They know each inning is going to be amazing. When you see the best pitcher in the league or in baseball, it's exciting." "That will be high-powered. There's no getting around it," Tracy said. "There's a lot of incentive there with the two clubs. You don't need any initiative to want to be involved in that matchup. It's a statement game. it's an opportunity from the standpoint of a statement game for the reigning two-time Cy Young winner in the National League and an opportunity for someone in my opinion who is extremely special and is becoming even more special than what everyone was saying about him toward the latter part of last season." San Franciscans are hoping that being called out by Jimenez, in a pitching sense, will lift Lincecum out of the relative funk in which he has spent May -- 4.99 ERA for five starts. He does not buy into that. "I don't think it really matters," Lincecum said. "It's not really about who you're going up against, you just let that go by the wayside. When you're going up against a guy like Jimenez, we have to take advantage of the things that we can and play our game and do those things. But I can't worry about what he's going to do, I'm just going to take it inning by inning." Jimenez has been even more freakish than The Freak. On his one "bad" day, he lost a 2-0 decision to the Dodgers on May 9 by giving up two hits in seven innings. As befits someone with an 0.88 ERA, he has all season been riding one scoreless streak or another, and he has another current one of 17 innings. "This year he came up with that split-finger, and that's been a great equalizer for all of his pitches," Lincecum said of Jimenez. "He throws it 90 miles an hour and it drops straight down, and that's not easy to hit when you're throwing 100. He's just finding himself, I think. He had control problems and all that, and now he's just owning the league." But Lincecum owns the tangible proof of superiority in the league, with NL Cy Young Awards for each of his first two full seasons. Is he, figuratively, telling Jimenez, "Come and get it, if you can?" Giants skipper Bruce Bochy dismisses that element of the marquee battle. "I don't care who you go up against. You go up there and do the best job you can," Bochy said. "I don't think you get caught up in who you pitch against as much as the team you're facing. It's hitters, that's where your concentration is. You certainly don't want to add pressure to him. We know how well their guy's throwing and it should be a good matchup." Oh, and how did Marichal do after taking a 9-0 record and 0.59 ERA into his 11th start that fabulous 1966 season? He surrendered three runs, but bested the Reds, 5-3, with a complete-game seven-hitter -- on May 31. The precedent and the stage are both set. Curtain up.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.