WASHINGTON Bruce Bochy sounded like he was trying to coaxan old farm truck up a steep hill.
We were hoping he could get through the fourth inning,said the Giants manager, and he couldnt make it.
Tim Lincecum had nothing left in his tank. His gears were grinding. And he couldntescape the fourth inning. In his 172nd major league start, he gaveup eight runs for the first time. In the draining heat, his hair clingy withperspiration, Lincecums momentum from two good outings leaked out like power steering fluid.
The heat, said Lincecum, just got the better of me today.
Meteorology aside, here is the real thunderclap fact thatfollowed Tuesday nights 9-3 loss to the Washington Nationals:
The Giants face more than one steep hill with their formerace. They are exactly midway through a season. On this coast-to-coast drive,theyre in Topeka.
Somehow, they must continue to coax Lincecum along.
You always think hes turned a corner every time he goesout there, said Bochy, confirming that Lincecum would pitch Sunday atPittsburgh, the final game before the All-Star break. Hes got another starthere before the break. We need him to get back on track and pitch well.
Miraculously, the Giants made it to their 81stgame as a first place team, even though they are 4-13 in Lincecums starts.They are still a 45-win club, on pace for a 90-win season. They could be somuch further along. They could be spinning in mud, too.
Bochy waved off any big-picture talk of the Giants fortunesamid Lincecums failures.
Weve talked about that, Bochy said. I dont want todwell on that. Thats not what he needs to think.
You want to go with a mantra of, Its not how you start,its how you finish. The stuff is fine and hes healthy. We need him to pitchthe way we know he can.
Lincecum did not finish well amid the heat at NationalsPark, which was constant if not totally oppressive. Although temperatures werein the 90s with the requisite blanket-over-the-head humidity, an overcast skykept it from really roasting.
Lincecum threw 21 pitches in the first inning. Twenty-one.
Thats all it took to sap him.
Well, he worked hard and logged a lot of pitches, and Ithink it caught up to him in the heat, Bochy said. It showed. He couldnthold them. He couldnt get the ball where he wanted.
Lincecum threw 24 pitches in the Nationals two-run secondinning, including a curveball to pitcher Jordan Zimmermann that hovered like aglobby mass.
He threw 26 pitches as the Nationals hit rockets in athree-run third inning.
He had nothing left in the fourth.
It wasnt any one inning, Lincecum said. Just coming hereand dealing with that heat, its not anything different from what Ive dealtwith. It just got the better of me today. They made me work. They made me payfor it.
At the same time, Im not trying to make that my excuse ormy out.
Has he lost the momentum he searched for nearly two monthsto generate?
No, Lincecum said. Its easy to look at what happenedtoday and say I took a step back. But the next outing has nothing to do withtoday. Its about getting better the next four days.
Stuff was just a little flatter today. Just not as crispwith the exception of a couple batters in the first inning. That was thedifference.
Lincecum did a better job performing in the heat last season,when he was carrying an extra 20 or 25 pounds. He lost that weight over thewinter, saying he didnt like the way he felt.
Bochy said he didnt think Lincecums skinnier frame hadmuch of an impact. But his ability to maintain his stuff has been a largerissue this season. Heat or no heat. Long innings or not.
Well yeah, thats the case with most pitchers, Bochy said.Youre in the third or fourth inning with 70 pitches, its probably going tocatch up to you, especially in the heat. You could see him laboring in thesecond inning.
In the fourth, he couldnt quite make it.
Once again, Lincecum is left to talk about putting a badstart behind him. And find his old gear.
Ill try to feed off any wins we get, whether its mepitching or not, Lincecum said. Were all here for the same reason, and winningis contagious.
At least he can find some vapors there. Astounding though it might be, hes still pitchingfor a first-place club.