SAN FRANCISCO –- Mike Krukow always brings an informed perspective to Giants telecasts. Nobody on earth had a better angle to understand Tim Lincecum Wednesday afternoon.
Lincecum became just the second Giant in franchise history to be pulled with a no-hitter after five innings. Krukow is the other, back on May 12, 1983, at Cincinnati’s old Riverfront Stadium.
Both times, there were health considerations. Krukow recalled that start, in which he was charged with an unearned run and walked four in six no-hit innings, was his first since coming off the disabled list with elbow inflammation. The conversation with manager Frank Robinson went something like this:
Bruce Bochy didn’t need to repeat himself on Wednesday, as the Giants won 5-0 to take a rubber match and complete a 5-1 homestand to buffer baseball’s best record. It was an obvious call to pinch-hit for Lincecum in the fifth inning of a scoreless game.
Lincecum had thrown 96 pitches, including 32 in a first inning that he only escaped because third baseman Pablo Sandoval made a diving stop of Starlin Castro’s hot shot down the line. And in the third inning, Lincecum began to develop a blister on his middle finger.
“He’s fine, we stopped him in time,” Bochy said. “We don’t think it’s going to be an issue as far as his next start.”
There’s one other little detail: Lincecum already has one of these. He threw 148 pitches while no-hitting the San Diego Padres last July at Petco Park.
“I’ve been through this,” said Bochy, with one of his characteristic sighing grumbles. “Believe me, it’s stressful. There was no chance he was going to finish that game. No question. I think he had really good stuff. He just missed on some pitches.”
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The free-swinging Cubs were a good matchup for Lincecum, even if fastball command continues to elude him. He has walked 10 in 11 innings over his last two starts, yet the Giants began and ended their homestand with victories in those games.
“He was throwing around the plate and they were swinging, making outs” said catcher Hector Sanchez, whose two-run double was his third hit this season that followed an intentional walk.
It would be a stretch to suggest the Giants can keep winning when Lincecum’s innings become one field sobriety test after another. In addition to Castro’s near backbreaking hit, Nate Schierholtz missed a double down the line by the length of a Pence scooter handlebar.
He’ll have to find a way to eliminate walks and get back to the form he found in the spring and early in the season. No, Lincecum has never had plus fastball command and it’s not likely he’ll ever develop into one no matter how much Tim Hudson gets in his ear. But for the Giants thus far in 2014, the results continue to outshine the process.
“It didn’t matter if it was a no-hitter for me,” Lincecum said. “I just wanted to scratch out a win today.”
The decision went to George Kontos, his first in over a year. The Chicago kid and Northwestern alumnus, who has been a revelation in brief glimpses this year, struck out two while retiring each of his four batters. The no-hitter got broken up with one out in the seventh, when John Baker whistled a clean single through the right side against Jeremy Affeldt.
It’s a completely different game if not for Pablo Sandoval, and we aren’t talking about his two-strike, two-out single that broke a scoreless tie and extended his streak to eight games with an RBI -– the longest by a Giant in 11 years (J.T. Snow in 2003).
It was Sandoval’s diving stop on Castro that kept Lincecum from hitting the pavement.
Sandoval appeared ready to give his standard answer about his hitting form when a question came at him. When the question was about the diving stop, his face lit up.
“I’m more positive about that,” he said. “Especially early in the game, that was a big moment. I just try to stop everything for my pitchers.”
There wasn’t a no-hitter, but the Cubs left AT&T Park having failed to score in 20 consecutive innings. Come to think of it, Krukow probably experienced a few of those streaks during his days at Wrigley Field, too.