All the bullpen talk over the last few days must have done something to Tim Lincecum.
But he won’t let anyone think that.
The one-time, unquestioned Giants ace turned in a throwback performance—a solid 7-inning start, his best since Mother’s Day (May 12)–holding the Toronto Blue Jays to just one run on three hits, walking just one batter, and striking out six.
Lincecum was in control. In 100-pitches, 61 for strikes, he showed everyone why he’s not quite ready to be relegated to the pen.
Later, Lincecum insisted that news reports where he discussed a bullpen move weren’t on his mind on this night, when he was just focused on being a good starter.
That, he was.
It wasn’t exactly an auspicious start. Lincecum was ahead of Former Giant Melky Cabrera 1-2 but then gave up a single. The defense saved him with a 6-4-3-double play. But then the next batter, Edwin Encarnacion hit a 1-0 fastball into centerfield for his 17th home-run of the year to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.
Lincecum later said that pitch to Encarnacion was a “good pitch,” not a mistake. “You tip your cap to him,” said Lincecum. “And you move on.”
But with 2-out and clean-up hitter Adam Lind coming up, would it be the beginning of that typical Lincecum pattern this year of the one-big inning, early?
Not on this night.
Lincecum restored confidence striking out Lind on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning.
And then the Giants, as they have most of this season, came back to pick-up Lincecum. In the bottom of the second, Andres Torres hit a 1-1 pitch from Toronto’s Josh Johnson on a line over the centerfield wall. Hunter Pence, who had singled, scored ahead of him to make it 2-1.
That’s all they needed, as Lincecum was ready to throw a gem of a game.
In the second, despite a hard hit ball by Toronto’s Colby Rasmus, it was a quick three-batter inning. As was the 3rd.
And the 7th.
The noticeable exception was the 6th. He faced one more batter. The inning started creakily, with Lincecum giving up his lone walk of the game with one-out–to his opposing pitcher Josh Johnson. Pitchers are supposed to be outs, as Lincecum has acknowledged in the past.
Would it be his undoing in a close one-run game?
Cabrera, the former hero and doper, who had been dodging boos and indifference all night from conflicted fans, then singled to right.
But then it was Lincecum against the dangerous former home-run champion, Jose Bautista.
Bautista hit a liner to Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who quickly relayed to second baseman Marco Scutaro to get the lead runner Johnson.
Scutaro had the ball for split second, then in a scooping motion with his gloved, dropped the ball.
Did he hold it long enough? Did he even beat Johnson to the bag? Second base umpire Alfonso Marquez said he did, though Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons continued arguing as the inning ended . Giants Manager Bruce Bochy later said he’d probably be out there arguing too. But he thought Johnson was out.
With solid defense behind Lincecum like that double play, and hard hit fly balls to left run down by Torres, Lincecum shutdown the Blue Jays methodically. He had the fast-ball command early, and got his slider and change-up over for strikes.
The bull-pen came in to hold the game with Affeldt in the 8th, and Romo in the 9th. The closer needed 20 pitches to get the Blue Jays’ heart of the order out.
But even in the final inning, the Jays were a threat, with the tying run on first, and the winning run at the plate in the person of Edwin Encarnacion.
The Blue Jay slugger’s 17th homerun in the first inning was his team’s only run. His soft liner to second base would be its last out.
So the Giants bullpen did its job.
And for a change, so did the Giants starter named Lincecum.