SURPRISE, Ariz. — At some point during Tim Lincecum’s negotiations with the Texas Rangers, the topic of Game 5 of the 2010 World Series came up.
Lincecum was the winning pitcher in Arlington that night, striking out 10 at his dominant best and propelling the Giants toward their first championship in San Francisco.
He also broke hearts in the Lone Star State.
“When I talked to him on the phone before we signed him, he actually apologized for it,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels joked Tuesday.
Daniels paused before adding: “It wasn’t a very sincere apology.”
The Rangers have The Freak on their side now, although they need more time to finish dotting the ‘I’s and crossing the ‘T’s. (That can take a while with a player nicknamed Big Tim Timmy Jim.)
With the reported one-year, $1 million major-league contract not quite yet done, the team held back on formally introducing the two-time Cy Young Award winner on Tuesday.
But Daniels came to the media room at the team’s spring training facility to feed quotes to the media beasts who had arrived in large numbers hoping to see Lincecum himself. The buzz at the ballpark alone was enough to get nostalgic for Lincecum’s electrifying prime.
Daniels called him “one of the best pitchers of this generation,” although Lincecum’s role with the Rangers will begin as a middle reliever. Texas will not rule out Linecum starting some day, but for now the plan is to toss him into the bullpen mix and let him try to work his way toward a high-leverage, late-inning job.
Lincecum did not pitch at all in 2017 and lasted only nine rocky games (with a 9.16 ERA) for the Los Angeles Angels in 2016.
The Rangers took a calculated risk this week after liking what they saw during Lincecum’s recent showcase for scouts in Seattle. Lincecum, who spent months working at the Driveline Baseball performance in Washington, looked rejuvenated.
“What jumped out was how well his body worked, specifically his hips, where he had some of the issues a couple of years ago,” Daniels said. “The explosiveness is back in his delivery.”
The GM added that Lincecum looked fit. “His body is in better shape,” Daniels said. “The mobility and flexibility are back in his lower half.”
The Rangers expected to have a deal wrapped up by now, but Lincecum needed unexpected personal time in the wake of the death of his brother, Sean, at 37.
Out of respect, the Rangers will set no expectations about whether Lincecum will be ready for Opening Day. “Everybody is on the same page about not wanting to put baseball over real life,” Daniels said.
Lincecum, 33, went 110-89 with a 3.74 ERA and averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings his first time around. He remains one of the most charismatic and beloved players in Bay Area sports history.
Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards (2008-09) and also led the National League in strikeouts for three consecutive seasons.
“He dominated the game. Fun to watch,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said Tuesday. “You put yourself in a fan’s perspective, and he just looked different than everyone else. He was different. … He was just coming at you, relentless.”
But after a fourth All-Star selection in 2011, Lincecum began to lose his sizzle. He showed flashes here and there — sometimes just for an inning or two — but his fastball and control fell to the ranks of ordinary. Much of the problem stemmed from an ailing hip that required surgery in 2015.
Can The Freak get back to an elite level, maybe as a bullpen arm?
“I’ll be honest: I’m not 100 percent sure what to expect,” Daniels said. “I don’t want to put an expectation out there at this point.”