Heading into Thursday night, the premier matchup in the majors was the Giants-Phillies tilt that was to feature the Ghost of Cy Young Present squaring off with the Ghost of Cy Young Past in the forms of Tim Lincecum and Pedro Martinez, respectively. Or, as one scribe put it, Cy Young against Cy Old.
On this night, a regular season game lived up to the hype, and then some.
In a game that saw the Phillies down the Giants, 2-1, Lincecum and Martinez went toe-to-toe like heavyweight fighters, an especially ironic allusion considering that they're both about 5'10" and 160 pounds.
Martinez allowed his only run of the night on the first pitch he threw, which Giant leadoff man Eugenio Velez hit out to right-center.
From that point forward, Martinez looked more like he did in 1999 than 2009. He dominated the Giants with his familiar flamboyance and flair. He threw in and out, up and down, and from different arm angles. He visibly mimicked Aaron Rowand. He changed speeds, mixed in his change up and kept the Giant hitters off balance all night, striking out nine in the process. He allowed five hits and threw only 87 pitches, with 62 of them strikes.
Martinez not only threw well and economically, but his pitches had incredible life and movement on them. Several Giants waved at air in attempts to hit fastballs that registered only 90-91 on the stadium radar gun, but exhibited a late life and pop that gave Pedro his air of invincibility throughout the 1990's and '00s.
Lincecum, who took the loss, was probably even better. While striking out 11 and allowing only four hits, The Freak baffled the NL's best lineup, blowing hitters away with fastballs, freezing others with knee-buckling curves, and fooling more with a devastating change up.
The shaggy-haired 25-year old made only two mistakes on the evening. The first, a sloppy hanging curve ball to Jayson Werth, landed in the Delaware River (ok, it just felt that way) to tie the game at 1-1 in the second. His next mistake was hitting Chase Utley with a fastball a little too up and a little too in with no one on and two outs in the sixth. Ryan Howard followed by hitting a decent pitch into the gap in right center that scored Utley from first for a 2-1 Phillies lead, which is all it would take on this night.
Lincecum learned the hard way that when you make mistakes against a prolific lineup... even only one or two mistakes... the results won't be good, especially if you pitch in front of an anemic collection such as the Giants.
Martinez earned his third win in five starts for the Phils, recapturing the magic that made him famous, if only for one night. Lincecum took the loss to fall to 13-5.
The respect between the two slight hurlers was obvious after the game.
"He reminds me a little bit of me, but he's twice as good as me at this time of my career," Martinez said of Lincecum. "It took me seven years to win a Cy Young."
Lincecum returned the favor, saying "It's ridiculous how nasty his stuff still is. When you watch him, it's obvious he knows what he's doing out there."
While Lincecum took the loss in this game, there were no losers. A great baseball game with playoff-like feelings and emotions stole the baseball stage in South Philadelphia, with two of the game's great pitching artists, one from yesterday, one from tomorrow, flashing brilliantly across the landscape at the same time for what may be their only head-to-head matchup.
Consider yourself fortunate that you got to see it.