SAN DIEGO -- Observers who remember Tim Lincecum for what he was received a stellar example Saturday night of what he still can be.
Lincecum added another gem to his collection of keepsakes: His first no-hitter, an effort delivered with a surgeon's precision that cast the Giants' 9-0 triumph over the Padres into hallowed history.
Lincecum authored the 15th no-hitter in Giants history and the seventh since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958. Given the dominance Lincecum displayed at the outset of his Major League career, he appeared destined for this kind of achievement long ago. That it took Lincecum 207 starts to pitch a no-hitter didn't diminish his feat. If anything, the passage of time made his accomplishment more remarkable, given his fluctuating performance in recent years.
Racking up pitches
Lincecum transformed Petco Park into a tunnel of love, with all the ardor flowing toward him. He thrilled not only the usual throngs of Giants fans among the 40,342 patrons, but judging from the crowd noise, he also temporarily won over legions of Padres backers.
The Giants themselves reacted to Lincecum's rarity with joy that was rivaled by their World Series celebrations in two of the past three seasons. As he watched Yonder Alonso's fly ball settle into left fielder Gregor Blanco's glove for the final out, Lincecum suddenly absorbed a blind-sided tackle from catcher Buster Posey, who euphorically hoisted him off the mound. The usual group hug followed.
"An antpile, it kind of felt like -- or a dogpile, I guess you could say," Lincecum said.
But there also were plenty of individual embraces, as well as a dousing of champagne, for the right-hander who remains a popular figure in the clubhouse. On the field, Blanco ceremoniously handed him the final-out ball. In the clubhouse, Lincecum responded by thanking his teammates.
"I just said thank you for the plays and the output that we had," said Lincecum, who benefited from a robust offense.
Eleven days after Cincinnati's Homer Bailey no-hit the Giants, Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt -- San Francisco's 3-4-5-6 hitters -- combined to collect all 10 of the team's hits, including six for extra bases.
For one night, there was no talk about Lincecum moving to the bullpen or coping with his decelerated fastball or approaching his impending free agency. He was again "The Freak," "The Franchise," diminutive, yet dazzling.
Lincecum overwhelmed even himself. About 20 minutes after flinging his final pitch, he hadn't fully comprehended the glory.
"It's pretty surreal for me," Lincecum said.
Referring to the no-hitters thrown by teammates Jonathan Sanchez in 2009 and Matt Cain (perfect game) last year, Lincecum added: "Obviously, I've seen a couple. ... But to be in the middle of it is a little different. I think I'm still kind of pinching myself right now."
Not even Posey's bear hug jarred him back to reality.
"But I felt it, though," Lincecum said. "He got me pretty good in the back. When I went up in the air, my mindset was still like 'This game is still going on.' I wasn't really thinking that was the last out."
Maybe nobody wanted it to end. Coming off a career-worst 10-15 record last year, Lincecum has performed adequately for only brief stretches this season, as the 4-9 record and 4.61 ERA he owned before the game indicated. For the two-hour, 51-minute duration of this contest, none of that mattered.
"It's good to see something nice happen for Timmy with his ups and downs the last couple of years," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Lincecum no longer blows away hitters with his fastball. Formerly capable of throwing 95 mph with ease, Lincecum now maintains a heater in the low 90s.
"I have to pitch with what I've got," he said. "That might be more changeups and sliders."
The combination worked for Lincecum as he proceeded through his 148-pitch workload. That represented the second-highest total required in a no-hitter in the last 25 seasons. Arizona's Edwin Jackson threw 149 when he no-hit Tampa Bay on June 25, 2010. In obliterating his personal high of 138 pitches on Sept. 13, 2008, against San Diego, Lincecum threw the most pitches by a Giant since Vida Blue fired 153 on July 22, 1979, against the Expos.
In typical Lincecum fashion, he employed the strikeout as a primary asset, accumulating 13 while walking four. Each Padres starter except left fielder Carlos Quentin struck out.
"I think he was pretty aggressive in the zone, but he knew when to expand at the right time," said Posey, citing Lincecum's ability to get Padres hitters to chase certain pitches. "I think that was a big part of it."
During a stretch of six consecutive strikeouts spanning the second through fourth innings, Lincecum used all four of his deliveries -- changeup, curve, slider and fastball -- to secure at least one strikeout..
"He was throwing three or four pitches for strikes, and when you're able to do that, you keep guys off-balance," Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko said.
Lincecum also struck out at least one batter in each of the final eight innings.
"What was impressive, really, is how much better he got deep in the game," Bochy said.
This didn't stop Bochy from ordering left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to begin warming up in the bullpen when Lincecum issued a pair of sixth-inning walks.
"Believe me, I was thinking about where he was with the pitch count," Bochy said. "But he was under control and even got better with his delivery and command. He had that 'eye-of-the-tiger' look."
But Lincecum needed some defensive assistance and a little luck.
Quentin concluded the sixth inning with a solid line drive directly at shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Sandoval made a deft backhanded stop of pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman's sharp grounder behind third base and threw to first for the out that ended the seventh inning.
"I have to catch the ball no matter what," said Sandoval, describing his mindset.
Pence turned in the evening's beauty, lunging to make a diving catch of Alexi Amarista's sinking line drive for the final out of the eighth inning.
"You have to give everything you can," Pence said. "I just laid out, reached as far as I could and happened to just get there."
"That was really special," Lincecum said of Pence's play. "To be honest with you, I thought that was a hit off the bat. Hunter comes flying out of nowhere and makes a Superman catch."
With the crowd standing, Lincecum struck out Chase Headley to start the ninth. The harmless fly balls to left field by Quentin and Alonso followed. Then came the celebration.
"With the ups and downs, he's had a good attitude. He's continued to work," Posey said. "This is a reward for it."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.