Lincecum stretches in relief as Giants extend their season

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Lincecum stretches in relief as Giants extend their season

BOX SCORE

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.

RATTO: Tim Lincecum is a graphic novel

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.

Giants lineup: Belt in left field, Kelby at second base

Giants lineup: Belt in left field, Kelby at second base

Programming note: Dodgers-Giants coverage starts today at 11:30am with Giants Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

Dave Roberts and Bruce Bochy issued their lineups for today's series finale at AT&T Park:

Dodgers (10-12)
1. Enrique Hernandez (R) CF
2. Corey Seager (L) SS
3. Justin Turner (R) 3B
4. Yasiel Puig (R) RF
5. Chris Taylor (R) 2B
6. Austin Barnes (R) C
7. Scott Van Slyke (R) 1B
8. Cody Bellinger (L) LF
9. Julio Urias (L) P

Giants (8-14) 
1. Hunter Pence (R) RF
2. Brandon Belt (L) LF
3. Eduardo Nunez (R) SS
4. Buster Posey (R) 1B
5. Christian Arroyo (R) 3B
6. Nick Hundley (R) C
7. Kelby Tomlinson (R) 2B
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Matt Moore (L) P (1-3, 5.87 ERA)

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

SAN FRANCISCO — This spring, Hunter Pence briefly tried to cut back on his coffee intake. The experiment did not last long for a player who is pure caffeine on and off the field, but even Pence is occasionally in need of more than a large cold brew. 

Pence tried to stay upbeat throughout a sluggish start to the season, but around him was a clubhouse in need of energy. Christian Arroyo walked through the door on Monday. Two days later, Michael Morse arrived.

“That’s quite an energy jolt,” Pence said of Arroyo. “Morse, it’s been an energy jolt as well.”

The two recent River Cats sent a pair of jolts through a stadium that was sold out for the 499th consecutive time. Arroyo hit a two-run homer in the seventh, his first in the big leagues. Morse went deep in the eighth for his first big league hit in two years and first homer as a Giant since the 2014 NLCS. 

Pence is close friends with Morse and an admirer of Arroyo, the 21-year-old who has taken a locker a few feet away. He made sure neither jolt went to waste, hitting a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th to give the Giants a thrilling 4-3 win they hope they can build on.

“That was a shot in the arm,” Morse said.

The big slugger was just that earlier Wednesday. Morse agreed to terms on a minor league deal at Pence’s wedding last winter and he was on track for Opening Day before a hamstring injury. He was so excited by Wednesday’s call back to San Francisco that he beat Bruce Bochy to the park. The manager tried to lower expectations before the game, telling reporters that Morse would not be a regular starter, especially in left, where the Giants have watched a black hole open. 

Morse was here for the late innings, for the moment when Bochy looks at him and says simply, “Get ready, Mo.” For most of Wednesday’s game, it looked like that big moment wouldn’t come. Alex Wood took a no-hitter into the sixth but he was pulled in the seventh by a Dodgers staff trying to protect his arm. Sergio Romo entered and soon faced a kid who was 19 the first time he walked into Romo’s clubhouse. 

“He’s been doing the same thing in the big leagues with good results for a long time,” Arroyo said. 

Arroyo got the slider that’s always coming, low and away, and he drilled it deep to left-center. He hit only three homers last year but Giants management felt the 36 doubles at Richmond showed a developing power bat. The strength has come quickly, and the ball carried into the first row of seats. 

“I looked up and saw the ump waving and I was like, ‘I’ve got to slow down,’” Arroyo said, smiling. “I tried to slow down and take it all in.”

As Arroyo crossed the plate and looked to the sky, his family shared hugs — without spilling a nacho — in a section overlooking the home dugout. The ballpark roared. A 3-0 deficit had been nearly erased. 

“Now it’s a one-run game,” Bochy said. “Anything can happen.”

Even by that standard, Morse’s blast was improbable. This is a player who didn’t have a hit last season before being sent home by the Pittsburgh Pirates. A player who, at 35, was having a poor spring before he announced to a reporter one day that he was going to hit a homer -- and then promptly did. On a rehab assignment over the past week, Morse had a .250 average and no homers, but he insisted to general manager Bobby Evans that his swing was ready. 

Evans believed, and Morse rewarded him with a moment that had everyone in the park throwing it back to 2014. Just as in the deciding game of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Morse was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. Sidewinding Pat Neshek was replaced by fire-balling Pedro Baez, but the approach was the same. 

“Swing hard,” Morse said. “Just in case you hit it.”

Baez kept pumping fastballs and Morse turned on one at 97 mph. He raised his arm the same way he did three years ago, an inning before Travis Ishikawa’s heroics. 

“I’m not going to lie,” Bochy said. “I was thinking about that game against St. Louis.”

All the Giants were. 

“You kind of just sit there and shake your head a little bit because it was very similar to his last homer here,” Posey said. “Even his excitement out of the box was similar.”

Morse said he didn’t intend to strike the same pose. 

“I was like, ‘I hope I didn’t strike out and I’m just running around the bases,’” he said, laughing. “It was cool, man. Not only for me, but for the team.”

For four innings, the surging bullpen made sure the homers would not be a fun footnote to another loss. Gorkys Hernandez kicked off the winning rally in the 10th with a single. He was pushed along by a stolen base, walk and bunt. Pence stepped in with no outs and engaged in one of the strangest battles of a career full of them. 

Ross Stripling, a starter with a deep repertoire, kept pumping 94 mph fastballs up near Pence’s eyes. Pence swung through one, fouled off five, and took three more for balls. Only one of the pitches he saw was in the strike zone. In the dugout, Posey shook his head in amusement. 

“It was kind of hard not to laugh,” Posey said. “He’s probably the only guy who can do that.”

Some Giants couldn’t hold the laughter in, even in a tense spot.

“He had that ‘Thou shall not walk’ going in that at-bat,” Bochy said. “He probably expanded as much as I’ve ever seen. If he would have walked it would have gone down as one of the more amazing walks with all the balls he swung at.”

On a night full of so much energy, a walk would have been an anticlimactic ending. Pence, who had been expecting a curveball the whole at-bat, lofted a 10th fastball deep enough to left to score Hernandez and send the Giants streaming out of the dugout. 

Arroyo, the youngest of them all, went sprinting across the infield. Morse followed, and soon he had Pence wrapped in a hug. Hours earlier, he had promised that at the very least, he would bring energy to the clubhouse. He delivered more than anyone could have imagined.

“To do that is one of those special moments that can change a season,” Pence said. “It was electric ... Morsey being Morsey.”