Ratto: Lincecum's Incandescent, Invincible Game 1

October 8, 2010, 5:45 am
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Because the future must be served first, this, from San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy:

Tim Lincecum is still available on short rest for Game 4 of the NL Divisional Series if needed.

"Yeah, it was 119 (pitches,)" he said as he recapped the Giants 1-0 win over Atlanta in Game 1, "but it wasnt like he looked overextended out there. I dont think this changes my mind about that (scenario) at all."

And now, the past. The amazing, overwhelming past.

"Truthfully, I cant remember him ever being better," Bochy said. "I mean, I dont remember one that stands out right now."

That's because there really isnt one. Lincecum came as close as a human being can come to being Roy Halladay without actually being traded to Philadelphia and changing ones name. He dope-slapped the Braves in Halladay-esque fashion, limiting them to two harmless doubles and 14 even more harmless strikeouts, and in doing so eradicated all useful memories of the August From Hell.

"Guys kept telling me everyone goes through this, and everyones gonna have their struggles," Lincecum said of the lost 30 days and whether they seem like they even happened to him. "But I dont even think about that or going through those mental struggles."

He didnt have to, either. He beat the Braves early with breaking balls, and then conditioned them so well that he beat them with almost a constant diet of fastballs late. And while the Braves are a very modest hitting team by postseason standards, this would have been an overwhelming performance under any circumstances.

"I think maybe I went out to talk to him two or three times, maybe," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "Just, I didnt really need to. I just went out to see if we were on the same . . . the same page."

Put it this way, re: pages. Lincecum was the author. Posey was a fine editor.

Indeed, the only time Lincecum caused the Giants even a moments worry was the opening batter, third baseman Omar Infante. He coaxed a 3-1 count from Lincecum and then drove a ball into the left-center field gap for a double, but died when Jason Heyward flied modestly to Cody Ross in left and Lincecum struck out Derrek Lee and Brian McCann, the first on a 3-2 slider, the second on a 3-2 change.

He went to three balls only three more, walking Heyward in the fourth (the only inning he didnt have at least one strikeout), striking out Lee in the seventh and Heyward in the ninth.

The only other moment of suspense when the Giants were taking the field came in the ninth when Brian Wilson, who had thrown in the eighth just as a precaution, dawdled purposefully on his way to the bullpen in the ninth. He knew, as professionals do, that he needed to be ready just in case, but that this was deservedly Lincecums game, and to hurry along would be, well, impolite if nothing else.

As it turned out, Wilson didnt have to heat up much, as Lincecum closed in style, with a hard grounder from Infante to Juan Uribe at short, then the Heyward strikeout and Lee looking at strike 75.

And Posey was the perfect supporting actor, by singling, being thrown out at second while being called safe on a stolen base attempt ("Its a good thing we dont have instant replay," he joked), and then scoring on a hard smash past third that Infante deflected by Ross.

"I cant imagine what (being Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz felt like), he said when asked to reference Halladays catcher. "That was fun. When you throw a complete game shutout with 14 strikeouts, its going to get pretty loud, I guess."

It did. And it didnt matter. Lincecum at his best turned in the best performance of his career and the second-best performance of an overwhelmingly pitcher driven postseason.

The six winning pitchers so far (Halladay, Lincecum, Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte) have combined for the following pitching line:

44.1 19 7 6 8 48

Thats 44 13 innings, 19 hits, seven runs, six earned, eight walks and 48 strikeouts. Thats dead-ball era stuff, across the board.

There will be incorrect quibbles about why Pablo Sandoval was walked to pitch to Ross, or why Sandoval was allowed to bat for himself against Jonny Venters in the sixth, or even why Wilson didnt finish. Those are exceedingly silly nits to pick, though, because this was Lincecums evening, with a hint of Posey and a soupcon of Ross. No managerial decision was going to change this story line, no matter how desperately the second-guess brigade tried. Lincecum was the story Thursday, period.

And Monday, too, if it comes to that. He looks very available for Game 4 indeed. Available as all hell.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.