Lincecum stretches in relief as Giants extend their season

October 11, 2012, 3:01 am
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CINCINNATI At times over his career, TimLincecum, in an effort to find that free-form intersection of rhythm andrelease point, would pitch an entire game from the stretch.

Hands at his waist. No backwards step. Just kick, twist,dangle, drive and throw.

Lincecum did not begin in the windup when the Giants triedto save their season Wednesday night. That was because, for the first time inhis major league life, he inherited someone elses runner. For the first time,he inherited someone elses problem.

And boy, did the Giants have a problem, bigger than those twoinherited runners in the fourth inning. They needed Lincecum to take the mound,drive off it with his incredibly long stride and span an impossible, impassablelength.

He had to stretch further than he ever had.

Lincecum was given an unaccustomed role, yet he had to portray himself.

Today is all about getting to tomorrow, said Lincecum, whomight have become the most important long reliever in franchise history whenhis 4 13 innings helped the Giants beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-3 to force a decisiveGame 5 in their NL Division Series.

Its about getting that extra day to play with the guysnext to you.

The Giants have that day. If they can knock out the Redsbehind Matt Cain on Thursday, Lincecum might have his day in the rotationagain, too. Giants manager Bruce Bochy left little doubt that Lincecum, despitewobbling like a newborn fawn so many times while posting a 5.18 ERA thisseason, is back in the conversation to start should the Giants reach the NLCS.

Oh, I think you have to, Bochy said. He stepped up anddid a terrific job. He had a great look about him and he really came through for us. Whenyoure on this stage youre hoping somebody steps up and Timmy has thatability. He did tonight.

Yeah, we get to that point, sure. Well talk about it.

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For now, the Giants cannot look past what is directly infront of them. Theyve been operating that way from the moment their flighttouched down in Northern Kentucky trailing 0-2 in this series. Hunter Pencegave his Friday Night Lights speech to wall-shaking ovations before Tuesdaynights extra-inning survival game, Pence reprised it with a football huddle inthe dugout Wednesday and the Giants offense, which had hit .126 against Redspitching, awakened when Angel Pagan hit a home run on the second pitch of thenight.

Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval had been dormant inthe first three games, going 4 for 37 (.108) with no runs scored. In Game 4, theynight-bloomed in a 6-for-11 bounty that included two walks, three doubles, two home runs, five RBIsand four runs scored against Mike Leake and the back end of the Reds bullpen.

The Giants had a functional offense for the first time in this series. But they hadintensive-care issues on the pitching side. Barry Zito lasted 76 pitches andjust eight outs.

I was off today from the first inning, Zito said.Unfortunately I wasnt able to get in that groove when Im pumping strikes. Iwas just missing the whole time. It was just so many pitches. Im upset withmyself because I didnt attack the zone like I usually do.

Still, the Giants won for the 12th consecutivetime in a Zito start. Thats because George Kontos came in for a piece in thethird inning, Jose Mijares got a huge strikeout of Joey Votto in the fourth andthen Lincecum trotted out to face Ryan Ludwick with two out and two on.

This was the situation Bochy envisioned when he set up hispostseason rotation and chose to bypass Lincecum, knowing the gymnastic little right-hander never ices his armand can get ready from peeling off the hoodie to throwing open the gate -- inthe time it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn.

Lincecum threw two relief innings with the team trailing inGame 2 on Sunday, but that was just a dress rehearsal. This was the show.

We knew Timmy would play a critical role, Bochy said. Ilove a man who has the talent he does and buys into what we were doing. Hehad a great attitude about it and carried it into the game.

I think his last outing out of the bullpen had to give hima lot of confidence. Hes got unbelievable talent, and I know its been an upand down year for him, and I know he wanted to get out there.

Lincecum threw a 2-2 changeup past Ludwicks bat, and thestrikes came in torrents from there. Lincecum threw 42 of them over his 55pitches an efficiency he hadnt displayed all season. He struck out six anddidnt walk a batter.

The Reds scored one run against him in the seventh, whenDrew Stubbs hit a leadoff double. Lincecum was not rattled by it. He alreadywas pitching from the stretch. A ground out and a sacrifice fly cut the theGiants lead to 5-3.

Lincecum gave up nothing else.

Throw strikes and be aggressive. That was my mentality,Lincecum said. Theres no room for error. Just stick to my strengths. Today Ifelt I was throwing strikes. I got ahead for the most part with fastballs andwhen I was able to get them out, that gave me confidence that, OK, my stuff isgood today.

Lincecum did not find 96 mph on his fastball. He hummedalong at 89-90, as he has all season. But he located it, especially up and in,which set up a slider and changeup that moved out of the strike zone as theyonce did. He did not leave offspeed pitches over the plate.

Timmy, man, he was crisp, Zito said. Striking outLudwick, that was the difference in the game right there. We fed off thatmomentum the rest of the night.

Not only did Lincecum protect the lead, but he carried theGiants through the eighth inning a significant achievement, since Sergio Romoand Jeremy Affeldt had thrown two innings apiece the previous night. JavierLopez was spared use, too. Now all three of the Giants frontline relieverswill be rested and ready for heavy use, if needed, behind Cain in Game 5.

After so many deflating starts and dispiriting losses thisyear, Lincecum stood at his locker and accepted blame. His eyelids and shouldersdrooped with the burden of being who he was, and yet not being who he was.

So walking off the mound at Great AmericanBall Park, leaving the brisk air for a warm reception in the dugout, was amoment of fulfillment.

Personally, it was a great feeling just to come back inhere and know I did my job, Lincecum said. Theres an added benefit there.But today, all Im really thinking is, Try to get to tomorrow.

The past is baggage. And right now, Lincecum and the Giantsmust let everything go.

The whole year, everything, all that stuffs behind himnow, Zito said. Hes the hero today.

Could Lincecum be the hero in relief tomorrow?

Im not telling them no, he said.

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