By his own standards, the 2010 regular season wasn't a vintage Tim Lincecum year. But it didn't take long in the postseason for the Giants right-hander to show why he's been one of the best pitchers in the game in recent years.
As the stakes have risen in October, so has Lincecum's performance. In his postseason debut, he recorded 14 strikeouts against the Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
On Saturday, the Giants will be hoping for a repeat performance in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
For an encore, likely Game 1 starter Lincecum draws one of the toughest matchups imaginable -- facing Roy Halladay and the Phillies on the road.
The anticipated pitchers' duel matches Halladay, the favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award this year, against Lincecum, the recipient of the award in 2008 and '09.
There will be plenty of hype, and for good reason.
Both right-handers turned in performances for the ages in their first career playoff starts.
Behind Lincecum, the Giants are expected to go with Matt Cain in Game 2, followed by Jonathan Sanchez in Game 3, which will be at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
In Game 1 of the Phillies-Reds series, Halladay set the tone by tossing the second no-hitter in MLB playoff history. The veteran, who had never experienced meaningful October baseball, placed his name next to Don Larsen. The only other no-hitter in the postseason was turned in by Larsen, who tossed a perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
Halladay's gem came the day before Lincecum struck out 14 for the Giants in their series opener with the Braves.
"Great for him," Lincecum told reporters of Halladay's historical game the day before the Giants opened their playoff series with Atlanta. "Obviously, we're concerned with ourselves."
Not to minimize history, but players have tunnel vision when it comes to the playoffs. Lincecum certainly has been locked in for several weeks.
For the season, Lincecum went 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA after going 15-7 with a 2.48 ERA in 2009.
One thing that didn't waver for him in 2010 was his ability to strike batters out. For the third straight year, Lincecum fanned more than 200 -- posting an NL-most 231.
Behind Lincecum in strikeouts is Halladay, who finished with 219.
After a rough August, when he was 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA, Lincecum became dominant in September. For the month, he was 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA, striking out 52 in 41 2/3 innings.
Recently, Lincecum assessed how he overcame a rough August to finish on a roll.
"You know, things got a little bit more crucial," the right-hander said. "I went through more of a hectic period in my career. Obviously, that rough month made me want to turn things around and just do something different."
In a game of adjustments, Lincecum altered some things in his preparation. He switched up some things during his between-starts routine, and he increased his conditioning.
Bottom line is when he got on the mound in the most meaningful start of his career, he tossed a two-hit shutout and completely overwhelmed the Braves.
Lincecum has some familiarity with the Phillies. He faced them once this year, going 8 1/3 innings while striking out 11 and allowing two earned runs in a no-decision.
For his career, Lincecum has faced the Phillies seven times, and he is 2-1 with a 3.17 ERA. Philadelphia's batters are hitting a combined .199 against him.
Hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park can be rough on pitchers. Lincecum has made three starts in Philadelphia and he's 0-1 with a 3.66 ERA in those meetings.
In the postseason, all the regular-season numbers don't mean a thing. October provides a fresh start, and Lincecum entered the playoffs not wanting to put too much pressure on the moment.
"Obviously, it's a great opportunity for us," he said before the playoffs began. "It's been a while for the Giants organization, and it's the first for myself. And a first for a lot of these guys. So we're trying to take it all in. I'm not trying to be too wide-eyed about it."
There certainly are going to be a lot of eyes watching when Lincecum and Halladay take the mound.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.