OAKLAND, Calif. — The uniform is different. The flowing locks of shaggy brown hair that once protruded from his cap are gone. He’s lost a little zip off his fastball, too.
Even so, “The Freak” came back as a force.
Tim Lincecum made a winning return to the majors, restarting his career after nearly a year away with six sharp innings and several ovations to lead the Los Angeles Angels over the Oakland Athletics 7-1 Saturday.
“It just kind of felt like riding a bike again,” Lincecum said. “After that first inning, everything kind of went away and I could just get back to work and making my pitches.”
Sporting a bright red hat and Angels jersey that was in stark contrast to the black and orange he wore across the Bay Bridge for nine seasons with the San Francisco Giants, Lincecum gave up one run and four hits.
The four-time All-Star struck out two and walked two before leaving to a raucous ovation from the crowd of 25,078.
The 32-year-old righty hadn’t pitched in the majors since last June 27. He had hip surgery in September, signed with the Angels in May and made three starts in the minors.
Lincecum didn’t quite have the blazing fastball that he used to win back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards, but he was still strong in his debut with Los Angeles.
“It felt like my mechanics were a little erratic,” Lincecum said. “Got into some deep counts but I made pitches when I needed to and my defense made plays when we needed them to. Definitely an area when I can improve on, but happy with it.”
Lincecum retired seven straight during one stretch and got A’s slugger Khris Davis to ground into a double play after walking the leadoff batter in the fifth.
“He pitched backwards,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “He threw fastballs in breaking ball counts and breaking balls in fastball counts. We couldn’t solve him.”
Mike Trout homered, doubled and drove in three runs for the Angels. Johnny Giovatella also homered to help Los Angeles to its third win in four games.
The Angels batted around and scored five times in the sixth. Ryan Dull (1-2) lost in relief.
Lincecum was followed by television cameras and received a standing ovation from fans of both teams – and a few wearing Giants No. 55 jerseys – as he walked to the bullpen for his pregame warmups.
A second, louder ovation greeted Lincecum when he took the mound.
“It was pretty incredible, I wasn’t expecting that,” Lincecum said. “It’s nice being here close to where I started and having my Bay Area fans here. Definitely made it feel like a home game to me.”
Lincecum breezed through the first two innings, then struggled with his command in the third when Danny Valencia‘s two-out, broken-bat single on a 3-0 pitch drove in Billy Burns.
That was about the only blemish on Lincecum’s day.
After getting Davis to hit into the double play in the sixth, Lincecum retired Jed Lowrie on a fly ball to end his afternoon.
Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia stood on the top steps of the dugout and greeted Lincecum with a handshake as he came off the field to another big cheer.
“His command got a little fuzzy in the sixth … but after the first couple of pitches you could see his stuff was there,” Scioscia said. “When he needed to get into the zone, he did.”
Trout hit his tying home run leading off fourth to chase A’s starter Andrew Triggs. Two batters later, Giavotella followed with another solo shot that hit off the left field foul pole.
Triggs, who was called up from Triple-A Nashville before the game, allowed three hits with one strikeout in his first major league start.
Angels: OF Todd Cunningham was designated for assignment. … C Geovanny Soto (right lateral meniscus) was scheduled to take batting practice before the game and could begin a rehab assignment in the minors next week.
Athletics: Righty reliever Liam Hendriks (triceps strain) is expected to come off the disabled list soon. … INF Tyler Ladendorf was optioned to Triple-A Nashville.
Angels: RHP Jered Weaver (5-6) starts Sunday at the Coliseum. Weaver hasn’t made it past the sixth inning in his last four outings and is 1-3 during that stretch.
Athletics: LHP Eric Surkamp (0-4) pitches the series finale for Oakland. His 8.07 ERA is the highest in the AL and third-highest in the majors among pitchers with 25 innings or more.