SAN FRANCISCO – Tim Lincecum was coming off a great performance, a historic one. But like any pitcher who throws a no-hitter, he understood how these trends work.
Pablo Sandoval understood it, too.
“A lot of pitchers who throw a no-hitter don’t do well in their next start,” Sandoval said. “But he is pitching with confidence, and everyone can see that.”
A sellout crowd could. So could the St. Louis Cardinals. Most importantly, so did a home dugout that had been missing swagger and so much more while losing 15 of 19 games. Lincecum lit their cauldron in the fourth inning Tuesday night, when he escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam without yielding a run. And Sandoval took up the torch in the bottom of the fourth, hitting a two-run home run as the Giants won 5-0 to get on the right side of a series for a change.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Lincecum dazzles as Giants find offense]
It was the first time since June 6 that they won a series opener. They had dropped six consecutive.
One game does not make a streak. But the Giants nudged back into first place, a half-game in front of the Dodgers. And they have MomenTim on their side.
“Not a lot of difference between the two games,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Lincecum, who yielded four hits in eight innings, has thrown 17 consecutive scoreless innings and tossed back-to-back starts with no runs for the first time since May, 2011. “He kept the ball down and threw quality strikes all night. This is a guy who is commanding all his pitches well.”
From the stretch, even. He only had to face two Padres hitters from the stretch in his no-hitter. If there is one common thread in his struggles over the past few seasons, it’s getting sped up with runners, getting out of sync as a result and overthrowing to try to compensate.
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This time, it was all so free and easy after two broken-bat hits and a hit batter loaded ‘em up in the fourth. Lincecum threw two fastballs to get ahead of Allen Craig, finishing him off with a 1-2 slider. He did the exact same to Jon Jay. After those two strikeouts, he punched his glove as Daniel Descalso grounded out to end the inning.
“No question, that’s the turning point in the game,” Bochy said. “He’s in a tough jam there facing some good hitters. Not to give up a run does so much for him there, and for the ballclub. It keeps us from having to claw back.
“It really bowed his neck there, I think. He kept his poise. It’s a great quality Timmy has when he’s going well. The sequences he had on those hitters, it was just a really nice job.”
Credit Hector Sanchez for those sequences, and for taking another load of buckshot to to the mask, right wrist and other assorted places – the norm when he catches Lincecum. And credit the pitcher for not trying to throw the world’s most toxic pitch in those situations. He did not over-rotate or let his back leg collapse or reach back for anything extra. He let the pitches shape themselves.
“Just fastballs,” said Lincecum of how he got ahead of Craig and Jay. “I tried to pound heaters with Craig and I tried to locate in and out with Jay. I know they’re both aggressive hitters, especially with the bases loaded.”
But when he got to 0-2, then he thought strikeout, right?
“No, not really,” he said. “I went with the pitch that would give me the most downward movement. I was thinking about a double play. If I get a strikeout, great, but I don’t think at any point I was looking for a strikeout in that situation.”
He struck something, though. A team’s lost nerve.
“To me that was a huge moment,” said right fielder Hunter Pence, who had hits in both the Giants’ scoring rallies and took a brilliant angle to make a catch on the dead sprint in right field. “For him to pitch out of it, it definitely gets the team fired up. It’s tremendous. I really don’t know how to describe it. It’s two phenomenal performances. He’s in that groove and it’s a lot of fun to play behind him.”
It had to be fun to play behind Matt Cain when he threw seven shutout innings last Saturday, too. And Tim Hudson when he took the mound in the ninth having allowed just one run. But the Giants could not win either of those games against the Cincinnati Reds, and were swept in a four-game series for the first time in 15 seasons at AT&T Park.
New month. New result.
But they did carry over two things from a forgettable June. One was Lincecum’s confidence. The other was Sandoval’s lucky cowboy boots, which made their first dugout appearance in weeks.
“We had a tough June,” Sandoval said. “Why don’t I try it again? Now I’ve got the superstition back.”
His two-run home run followed Buster Posey’s RBI double, it was his fourth of the season from the right side (after hitting just one all last season) and it was the 100th of his career in the regular season. (He also owns six in the postseason.)
Sandoval knew he was sitting on 99. The players gave him a quick toast in the clubhouse and he collected a trove of souvenirs from the game including the lineup card. And yes, he got the ball back, too.
Bochy smiled while noting that he’s seen every one of Sandoval’s homers in the big leagues.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’d be nice to see him hit another 100,” Bochy said of Sandoval, who will be a free agent after the season. “I know he’s happy about it. That’s something we’ve been missing, too.”
The 5-0 lead in the ninth even afforded Bochy a spot to get Jean Machi back out there after he had allowed runs in each of his last two appearances to obliterate a 25.1-inning scoreless streak that began in mid-April. Machi might have started a new streak when he threw a scoreless ninth. He’s also celebrating the birth of his son, Jean Marcos, on Monday.
That might be the only new arrival to the organization for some time. Prior to the game, Giants GM Brian Sabean told Yahoo! SportsTalk Live that he did not envision anything happening on the trade front.
“The fact of the matter is, I can’t click my heels and make a trade,” Sabean said. “I can’t dip down into the minor leagues. We played our cards with (Joe) Panik and (Adam) Duvall and God bless them, but they’re not ready to be here.
“So it’s an impossibly frustrating place to be in, but it starts with what you have on hand and with the deck we’re playing with. They’ve got to play better and they’ve got to be more competitive and play better at home. If they don’t, then I guess turning into a pumpkin was bound to happen.
“But I still believe we have resolve and I still believe the effort is there. We just need more execution, obviously, in all departments.”
They received it Tuesday night. From Lincecum in the stretch. From the middle of the order. And from a pair of boots that might not be done walking.