San Francisco’s Lincecum captures NL Cy Young award

Published 3:45 am Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tim Lincecum won the National League Cy Young Award by a comfortable margin Tuesday, taking home pitching’s highest honor in his second major league season.

The slender kid with the whirling windup joined Mike McCormick (1967) as the only San Francisco Giants pitchers to win a Cy Young.

Lincecum received 23 of 32 first-place votes and 137 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks got four first-place votes and finished second with 73 points.

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‘‘I was definitely surprised. I thought it was going to be a lot closer,’’ Lincecum said on a conference call.

Listed at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, tiny by today’s standards for a big league pitcher, Lincecum defied detractors — and the laws of physics — by firing 97 mph fastballs past one hulking slugger after another.

The 24-year-old right-hander was 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA and a major league-best 265 strikeouts, remarkable numbers for a fourth-place team that finished 72-90.

‘‘People have been doubting me my whole life,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t let them bring me down.’’

Lincecum led the NL in winning percentage (.783), ranked second in ERA and was third with 227 innings. He made his first All-Star squad, but an illness prevented him from appearing in the July 15 game at Yankee Stadium.

New York Mets ace Johan Santana, who led the league in ERA (2.53) and innings (234 1-3), also garnered four first-place votes and came in third.

The other first-place vote went to Milwaukee lefty CC Sabathia, last year’s AL winner who was traded by Cleveland into the National League on July 7. He went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and seven complete games in 17 starts for the Brewers, pitching them to their first playoff berth since 1982.

‘‘I definitely thought he was in fair contention,’’ Lincecum said.

Sabathia came in fifth. Brad Lidge, the star closer who had a perfect season for the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, was fourth.

Webb, the NL winner in 2006, was runner-up for the second consecutive season after going 22-7 with a 3.30 ERA in 226 2-3 innings.

The baby-faced Lincecum, nicknamed ‘‘Franchise,’’ is an aberration in almost every way. He eats junk food before starts and doesn’t ice his arm. When he was called up from the minors in May 2007, ballpark security workers in San Francisco thought he was a bat boy.

Late this season, some teammates even asked for his autograph — including veteran catcher Bengie Molina.

‘‘The key is to continue to get better,’’ Giants outfielder Randy Winn said. ‘‘With the usage of video that hitters use, now people are going to see him a little more. People are going to have a better idea of what his pitches look like and how he attacks hitters. The pitchers who have been good for a long time are pitchers who continue to get better.’’

Drafted 10th overall out of Washington in 2006, Lincecum said his major league experience last season definitely helped him succeed this year. He also credited an improved changeup, which he threw more often after finding a comfortable grip.

‘‘I’ve always taken pride in trying to strike people out. I’ve always been that guy,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s the one (statistic) that kind of gets me fired up.’’

Lincecum said he was on his couch watching NFL highlights with his roommate when he got the news. One of the first people he called was San Francisco closer Brian Wilson.

‘‘Me and Tim talked about this a lot. I always pumped him up and said, ’Dude, you know you’re going to win the Cy Young?’’’ Wilson said in a telephone interview. ‘‘This was before the season. He had the best fastball, best changeup and best curveball. He pretty much dominated every start. We would set goals and I would say, ‘I bet you won’t strike out 10 and not walk anybody,’ and he’d strike out 12. Each game he pitched he kept adding up the tally. Soon, America was going to know he was the best.’’

McCormick won in the first year the BBWAA honored a pitcher in each league. From 1956-66, only one Cy Young Award was presented for both leagues.

This year’s American League winner will be announced Thursday, with Cleveland lefty Cliff Lee a heavy favorite. AL and NL Managers of the Year are Wednesday.

Santana, a two-time AL Cy Young winner with Minnesota, received a $50,000 bonus for finishing third. Sabathia got $75,000 for coming in fifth. Webb’s second-place finish increased the buyout of his $8.5 million 2010 club option by $500,000 to $2 million.