There they were, side by side last weekend, two close-cropped, successful 20-somethings joking with their fans and poised to go after another World Series together.

You want Giants symbolism? You got it: Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum, the team's highest-profile and most scrutinized duo, figuratively joined at the hip on stage at Giants FanFest.

For the first time in such a public setting, the 2012 N.L. MVP and the two-time Cy Young winner looked and acted like comfortable comrades, good friends and a little bit like family.

And as the players assembled in Scottsdale, Ariz., for spring training, there was a clear message:

The Giants are Posey's ship now. He steers it, and his workmanlike attitude powers it.

Giants catcher Buster Posey goes back to the plate after a conference with Tim Lincecum on the mound in the first inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco,
Giants catcher Buster Posey goes back to the plate after a conference with Tim Lincecum on the mound in the first inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, May 4, 2012. The San Francisco Giants played the Milwaukee Brewers. (Jim Gensheimer/Staff)

Any doubt of that ended in October, when the Giants won their second World Series title of the three-season Posey era.

We can all guess that Lincecum, the freest of free spirits and the franchise's brightest star until Posey arrived, was the last straggler on board.

Manager Bruce Bochy can explain it any way he wants, but the fact remains that he kept Posey away from catching Lincecum as much as possible the last few years.

Last October was the sea change, though; that's when Lincecum gracefully accepted a demotion to the bullpen during last year's playoffs and kept delivering for the Giants in that role.

Which player praised Lincecum the most for that performance? Posey, of course.


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And at FanFest they suggested they'd like to be regular battery mates for the first time since ... ever, really.

It's the Giants' greatest open mystery: Why has Bochy so often kept his best catcher from catching his most accomplished pitcher?

To work through the answer, and appreciate the pair's apparent synchronicity now, you have to go back to the non-closeness of a few years ago.

Posey and Lincecum have been cordial, often friendly teammates, but they're very different people who came to the big leagues with very different approaches to the game.

Really, the disconnect -- or whatever word you want to use -- started in September 2009, when Posey was first called up to much fanfare.

As is normal, some veterans grumbled good-naturedly about the attention Posey was getting, and it would not be surprising if Lincecum was at the top of that list.

And it would be doubly unsurprising if Posey -- has he ever acted like an intimidated rookie? -- didn't play along with some light hazing.

Lincecum was wrapping up his second consecutive Cy Young season, and he could see what Posey's arrival meant -- Bengie Molina, his favorite catcher and friend, would be pushed out.

I don't know if Bochy was reacting to anything specific, but I do know that Bochy is incredibly in tune with his clubhouse.

And when Posey came up for that cameo in 2009 (with the Giants falling out of the race), Bochy barely played him -- seven games, 17 at-bats, one game catching Lincecum.

Then, when Posey came up for good in May 2010, he played first base until general manager Brian Sabean cleared the way at catcher by trading Molina on July 1.

It worked: Posey caught Lincecum 15 times to close 2010, then he caught all five Lincecum starts in the postseason, including the Game 5 World Series clincher in Texas.

After Posey's injury-shortened 2011, he started as Lincecum's regular catcher in 2012; but as Lincecum's season frayed, Bochy essentially went with Hector Sanchez as Lincecum's regular catcher.

Posey caught only two of Lincecum's final 19 starts last season.

It's almost certainly true that Lincecum has never told Bochy he disliked pitching to Posey, and I know Posey wants to catch Lincecum.

But it's probably just as true that Bochy knew Lincecum was more comfortable with Sanchez or Eli Whiteside.

And it's beyond doubt that Posey is nothing like Molina, who coaxed his pitchers, pumped them up, and especially was on the same emotional wavelength as the improvisational Lincecum.

Posey likes to make a plan, stick to the plan, and has been known to utter a few sharp words to pitchers -- even Lincecum, even when Posey was young -- during games to get them back on the plan.

But then Lincecum accepted the reliever's role in the postseason, pitched grittily to Posey in several key midgame situations (though he was rocked in his only start -- in St. Louis for Game 4, with Sanchez catching), and the Giants won another title.

It was a different kind of Lincecum, but the same Posey.

So it's no surprise that Lincecum is looking and feeling different this year, and talking about a better work ethic.

And now, by the way, Lincecum is pitching for his career: in a contract year, after a terrible season as a starter; if he wants that huge next deal, he probably has to figure out a new way.

He can't be aloof about the Posey takeover; it's a real thing. And Lincecum is showing that he's on board with it, because he's smart, because he wants to win, and because this is Posey's team now, beyond all doubt.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.

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