Sandoval: 'I just tried to put the ball in play'
Pablo Sandoval hit one of the Giants' two home runs Wednesday in L.A. that led to a 5-3 rubber match win. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
LOS ANGELES – Like so many of his conflagrations last season, Tim Lincecum was all dry kindling and matchsticks Wednesday night. Seven walks pretty much makes a full book, doesn’t it?
But his season debut did not go up in flames. Lincecum executed enough times to escape, held the Dodgers to three hits in five innings and even the two runs charged to him were unearned.
Aided by Pablo Sandoval’s wall-skipping two-run home run, one huge pitch from George Kontos as well as a tremendous Giants debut from right-hander Chad Gaudin, Lincecum emerged the winning pitcher as the Giants took a 5-3 victory and a 2-to-1 series victory at Dodger Stadium.
Giants starting pitchers had an 0.00 ERA spanning 19 innings in this three-game series. It was a much better start than last year, when they got ambushed in a three-game sweep at Arizona.
Starting pitching report
Under a hot lens in his season debut, Lincecum equaled his career high with seven walks and was a pitch away from failing to qualify for the decision. He allowed six baserunners in his first two innings alone, including a walk to pitcher Josh Beckett. But unlike so many of his messes last season, he managed to escape.
In fact, the only run the Dodgers scored in those first two innings came when catcher Hector Sanchez’s passed ball allowed Carl Crawford to scamper home. (Crawford moved into scoring position on Skip Schumaker’s walk, though, so it’s not like Lincecum can be absolved of that run.)
Lincecum managed to escape by striking out Luis Cruz on a fastball that hit the outside corner. He needed to pull another escape in the second inning, after A.J. Ellis hit a one-out double that eluded Hunter Pence’s awkward attempt on the track in right-center field. Beckett walked on a high 3-2 pitch and Crawford singled to load the bases. But Lincecum went change-fastball-change to strike out Schumaker, then got Kemp to fly out to end the inning.
By that point, he had labored for 40 pitches. Last year’s Lincecum might have been gassed by this point; he acknowledged this spring that he wasn’t physically as prepared as he should have been, and he lost too much weight too fast after the 2011 season.
Instead, Lincecum appeared to turn a corner. Handed a 4-1 lead in the third, he went out and retired the side on nine pitches in the bottom of the inning.
The next jam came soon enough, though. Lincecum needed a diving play on the grass by second baseman Marco Scutaro to strand two walks in the fourth inning.
And then a leadoff walk to Kemp in the fifth turned into another mess when first baseman Buster Posey booted a potential double-play grounder. Kemp took third on a fly out and scored on Luis Cruz’s sacrifice fly. After Lincecum walked Juan Uribe, Bochy quick-stepped it to the mound – a sign he was coming out to deliver a message, not to take away the baseball.
If Bochy told Lincecum that A.J. Ellis would be his last batter, the right-hander listened. A fly out to right field ended the inning, and Lincecum’s night.
He threw 91 pitches and just 46 of them were strikes.
It did not begin well for the Giants bullpen. Left-hander Jose Mijares, who spent most of the spring recovering from a left elbow impingement, was beyond erratic while failing to retire any of the three batters he faced to start the sixth: two singles and then just your average curveball that struck Skip Schumaker on the helmet and caromed into the stands.
It created a huge situation for Kontos, who said earlier this spring that the biggest out of his career came last October when he struck out Matt Kemp with runners aboard
Kontos faced Kemp again and came through, inducing a grounder to third base that Pablo Sandoval smartly turned into a step-and-throw double play as a run scored to make it 5-3. Left-hander Javier Lopez entered and put aside his 11.88 spring ERA. When Adrian Gonzalez swung through a slider, Lopez turned on his heels and strutted off the mound.
Lopez wasn’t able to retire Andre Ethier leading off the seventh, though. After a double into the right field corner, Gaudin entered to make his Giants debut and it sure as heck wasn’t a mop-up situation. He made instant inroads with the faithful, facing three batters and inducing three pop outs.
Then Gaudin gave the Giants a bit more. He retired three of four hitters in the eighth, and snapped off a beauty of a curve that froze Kemp to end the inning.
Kemp is hitless in his last 25 at-bats against the Giants, by the way. After shoulder surgery and a wretched spring, he’s no sure bet to have a big season.
Sergio Romo had no trouble with back-to-back save chances, working another 1-2-3 inning to end it and send the Giants home for a banner raising.
At the plate
The Giants got a lot of firsts out of the way in a four-run third inning.
Gregor Blanco singled in his first at-bat of the year to start the rally, Brandon Crawford doubled for his first hit in three games – and the first extra-base hit by a Giant in 2013 – then Lincecum helped himself with an RBI grounder to shortstop to tie the game.
The Dodgers, perhaps confident that Lincecum would give them more opportunities to score, played the infield back for Angel Pagan and conceded the run on a ground ball. Pagan came through with a good bit of situational hitting with a grounder to second base, and it turned into a boon when Schumaker botched it for an error.
After Scutaro flied out, Sandoval swung at a 1-2 pitch almost at the shoulders, watching it skip over the top of the left field wall for the Giants’ first home run of the season.
If Justin Verlander happened to be watching at home, he had to be shaking his head.
The Giants added one more run in the sixth, when Hunter Pence’s drive to right-center just kept carrying over the fence. Pence did appear to be stronger in the spring, and that homer certainly required some brawn. The ball seldom carries well here at night in midsummer, to say nothing of April.
It’s a good thing for the Giants that Sandoval’s homer skipped over the fence. They had three other rallies stopped by double plays; they grounded into seven double plays in the series.
One more detail we can’t forget to mention: Nick Noonan made his major league debut in the ninth inning as a pinch hitter. He grounded to second base on the first pitch.
Brandon Belt’s stomach ailment weakened the Giants at two positions. Sanchez, who looked terrible most of the spring behind the plate, struggled to frame Lincecum’s pitches and let one get past him for the game’s first run.
And Posey might have rushed to start a double play when he couldn’t handle Adrian Gonzalez’s grounder in the fifth.
The Giants addressed both deficiencies when Bochy pulled a double-switch in the sixth inning, as Posey went into the dugout to strap on the gear. It’s a move Bochy wouldn’t have made at such an early juncture if he didn’t have third catcher Guillermo Quiroz on the bench.
There’s no need to swap out the shortstop. Crawford made his first true gem of the season in the eighth inning, when he charged, barehanded, transferred and threw on the money to retire his Crawfordian counterpart.
The Dodgers announced a sellout crowd of 52,906.
The Giants take a day off before raising the World Series banner in the home opener Friday. It’s fitting that left-hander Barry Zito gets the assignment against the Cardinals, considering he staved off elimination in Game 5 of the NLCS at Busch Stadium to bring the series back to San Francisco. Right-hander Jake Westbrook opposes him. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m.