SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants used a Mile High springboard to the NL West title last year. They beat the Colorado Rockies 14 times in 18 games.
They are off to a good start again this season, positioned to try for a three-game sweep after storming back from a four-run deficit to take a 9-6 victory Tuesday night at AT&T Park.
But this is not a template they should plan to follow very often. On an oddly warm night that had a very Coorsian vibe, Tim Lincecum got stomped for a five-run second inning that matched the worst beating he took in any single frame last year.
It took the first opposite-field home run of Brandon Crawford’s career, a three-run shot in the sixth inning, to give the Giants instant life. Then it took Hunter Pence’s 1000th career hit to tie it and one more rally against the Rockies’ beleaguered bullpen to make a winner of reliever Santiago Casilla.
Pinch hitter Andres Torres hit a leadoff double in the eighth, Angel Pagan stung a tiebreaking single that nearly separated right-hander Matt Belisle from his clothes and the Giants tacked on two more to make it a less stressful save situation for Sergio Romo.
Lincecum’s problems are far from resolved – he allowed six runs on four hits and four walks in six innings – but the Giants have won in both of his starts. They only won consecutive Lincecum starts twice before the All-Star break last season.
Starting pitching report
Lincecum used to have a plumber’s wrench in his bag when a teammate would make an error behind him or a few hits would find turf. But the second inning sprayed out of control, just like so many of the rallies he couldn’t stop last season.
The drip-drip-drip started as it usually does, with a four-pitch walk to Troy Tulowitzki. Then Michael Cuddyer hit a ground ball to Scutaro’s left and the second baseman tried to spin and get the lead runner rather than take the surer out at first base.
It was a bad decision. The throw wasn’t nearly in time, and it was off line as well – allowing Tulowitzki to take third base when Pablo Sandoval had to abandon the bag to chase down the ball in shallow left field.
Lincecum nearly minimized the damage. Todd Helton hit an RBI ground out, and after power threat Wilin Rosario drew a walk, Lincecum struck out Chris Nelson on a nasty slider. There were two outs and the pitcher’s spot coming up.
But Lincecum got to 2-2 before missing on consecutive fastballs to Juan Nicasio, including a full-count pitch that wasn’t close. It was the second consecutive start in which Lincecum walked the opposing pitcher (and he’d walk Nicasio again in the fourth, too.)
Then came the floodgates – a two-run double from Dexter Fowler, who memorably tripled off Lincecum last year, and then a two-run single from Josh Rutledge.
That completed the damage in a five-run inning. Hard as it might be to believe, that matched the most runs Lincecum allowed in an inning last season (a five-run sixth May 25 at Miami).
The issue, once again, was fastball command. Lincecum had plenty of movement on his curve and changeup, but he couldn’t entice more swings. That’s because he threw just six strikes among 15 fastballs in the second inning.
Clearly, Lincecum remains a work in progress. But if he’s shown clear improvement in any area from last season, it’s improved conditioning and stamina. Even after a 32-pitch second inning, he was able to catch his breath and make it through the sixth inning on 104 pitches, allowing only a solo homer to Tulowitzki in his final four frames.
The upshot: Last year’s Lincecum probably doesn’t last as long, and would have overtaxed the bullpen as a result.
Jose Mijares began the seventh and left a runner at second base for George Kontos, who preserved the tie when he got Tulowitzki to fly out.
Casilla pitched a scoreless eighth to receive the decision and Romo worked another 1-2-3 ninth inning to record his fifth save in five opportunities.
Romo has retired 15 of 16 batters faced this season, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out eight.
At the plate
The early innings were more about missed opportunities than the 1-0 lead that the Giants were able to hand Lincecum. Pence’s infield single drove in a run in the first inning but Hector Sanchez flied out to strand the bases loaded.
Scutaro managed a clutch hit in the second inning when he punched his second single of the game – both of them to left field – with two outs to drive in Crawford. The two crisp hits were a good sign for Scutaro, who entered in a 3-for-27 slump.
The Giants slugged their way back into the game in a four-run sixth, with an unlikely power source leading the way. After Nicasio committed the grave sin of walking Gregor Blanco and Sanchez to start the inning, Crawford greeted right-hander Adam Ottavino by smacking his 2-0 fastball to left-center field for a three-run homer
It was just Crawford’s second home run in 363 career plate appearances at AT&T Park – and it was the first time he parked one the opposite way in the big leagues.
Crawford offered a sly smile as he crossed the plate, clearly not used to trotting on a ball hit anywhere to left field. Wherever they go, he makes his homers count. Of his eight career shots, three of them are three-run shots and two are grand slams.
The Giants still trailed 6-5, but they made up the rest quickly enough. Nick Noonan hit a pinch single, Pagan followed with a single and Scutaro sacrificed for the first out of the inning. After an intentional walk to Sandoval loaded the bases, Pence came through with his 1000th career hit to move everyone up 90 feet and tie the game.
Brandon Belt grounded into a double play to stall the rally at four runs, though.
The bench was key in the late innings. In addition to Noonan’s pinch hit, Torres proved adept off the bench with his double off Belisle to start the winning rally.
The Giants had 14 hits and everyone in the starting lineup except Belt managed to reach via hit or walk.
Aside from Scutaro’s bad decision in the second inning , the Giants didn’t give away any outs. Sandoval made the defensive play of the game, ranging far into foul ground to snag Helton’s pop-up near the Giants bullpen.
The Giants announced 41,910 paid, and the sellout crowd received snow globes depicting the World Series parade in front of City Hall. If you look hard enough, you can see a tiny little Bruce Bochy pushing his Rolls-Royce after it ran out of gas.
The Giants complete their first homestand and wrap up their three-game series with the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday afternoon. The Giants will try to win for a 16th consecutive time with Barry Zito (1-0, 0.00) on the mound. He’ll be opposed by left-hander Jeff Francis (1-0, 1.50). The Rockies just can’t quit that guy.