CHICAGO – Tim Lincecum got jolted out of bed in the first inning Sunday.
He hung two changeups. He watched two souvenirs fly to the bleacher creatures. He trailed 4-1 after facing five batters.
He has a 5.63 ERA after three starts, which is higher than the 5.18 ERA that was the final accounting of last year’s misery. He’s walked 12 in 16 innings.
To put it in golf terms, he’s trying to win a tournament while picking one par 4 in every round to make a snowman.
These big innings simply have to stop if Lincecum hopes to reestablish as anything more than a hope-and-pray No. 5 starter as he heads into free agency.
But it wouldn’t be sugarcoating his afternoon to point out that in the area where Lincecum most needed to improve, he did.
His runs came on a pair of two-run home runs, and both of those came on hanging changeups. Fastball command, which has so eluded him for the better part of two years, was actually pretty good. It’s as if Cher came to the mound, reenacted a scene from “Moonstruck,” and slapped Lincecum into throwing strikes.
He did. Among the 41 fastballs he threw, 28 were strikes and 13 were balls. Among those in the zone, 10 were fouled off, eight were taken, two resulted in a swing and a miss, and eight were put into play.
Seven of those eight fastballs that the Cubs put in play were outs.
That’s right. Lincecum only gave up one hit on a fastball. And he did not walk a batter after issuing a pass to David DeJesus to lead off the game. (That’s despite a strike zone from plate umpire Jeff Nelson that seemed a wee bit tight.)
The Giants made sure to take him off the hook, too. They’ve scored 24 runs in his three starts.
For Lincecum, the goal – in addition to commanding his fastball – becomes to avoid that big inning. He said it’s been more mental than physical in his last two outings, when he allowed nine runs in the span of two innings but just one run in nine others.
“It just comes down to focus and executing your pitches when you need to, and I didn’t do that,” he said.”I just didn’t put the guys away that I should have.”
He said he was “pushing” his changeup more than throwing it, but made an adjustment after the second inning that helped. It’s a wonder anyone could remember the particulars, since Lincecum spent more time as a spectator than a player in the Giants’ four-hour, 10-inning, 10-7 victory.
It was an exciting end, with Hunter Pence’s two-strike, two-out homer in the ninth. And yet …
“I didn’t want to be watching it,” Lincecum said. “I wanted to be a part of it.”
As mentioned in the Instant Replay (which you should read, since I promise the version on the site is better than the four deleted ones that preceded it!), the Giants are 3-0 in Lincecum’s starts. Last year, they didn’t win three consecutive Lincecum starts until Sept. 1-12.
George Kontos was the winning pitcher, which was a big deal for him at Wrigley Field. Check out Saturday’s Extra Baggs for more on that.
Kontos wasn’t going to take any souvenirs since he owned two other big league wins, but I encouraged him to snag the lineup card if nobody else had dibs on it.
Kontos got a huge double-play grounder to erase Javier Lopez’s runner and get the game to the 10th inning.
“High school friends, family friends – I had people on the rooftops today,” Kontos said. “This is going to stick with me a long time.”
Nick Noonan also gathered another souvenir after collecting his first two RBIs. And were they ever big ones. His pinch two-run single turned a one-run deficit into a one-run lead in the sixth inning. His single to left-center scored Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford, who read it perfectly.
It led me to wonder … what’s the most appropriate souvenir for your first RBI? Maybe ask Blanco for his cleats, since he scored the run?
“Well, I got the baseball,” Noonan said. “Maybe I can get Blanco to sign it for me.”
Considering Noonan is off to a 6-for-12 start, maybe Blanco should seek an autograph from him, too.
Crawford is just so darn good at knowing how to angle himself to make a play. He dives when he needs to dive. He slides when he needs to slide. He almost never looks out of control. I was thinking about that as Crawford made that catch on a foul pop in the second inning look so easy. It’s the one attribute that all great shortstops possess: body control.
Not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing for the Giants, but … they head to Milwaukee to face a Brewers club that is coming off a very interesting series in St. Louis.
Until they rallied in the eighth inning against the Cardinals, the Brewers hadnt’ scored in 32 consecutive innings – the longest streak in franchise history since 1972. Then they kept rallying to take a 4-3 victory in 10 innings on Jonathan Lucroy’s home run.
It’s hard to imagine Buster Posey getting shut out at Miller Park. He’s 12 for 24 with six home runs and 15 RBIs in seven career games there.
Posey is still looking for his first home run anywhere – even the Cactus League – since Game 4 of the World Series in Detroit. I asked him if it’s starting to cross his mind a little bit. He said no, but he does feel like he’s close to getting his timing fown.
He delivered his first and only hit of the series at Wrigley in the 10th inning Sunday, after coming off the bench in a double switch. He felt a “grabbing” sensation in his forearm on a checkswing before the single up the middle, but said he felt OK after the game.
Sergio Romo said he was OK, too, after catching that line drive back at him in the 10th. He was more stunned than anything.
“I caught it in a good spot,” he said.
Something’s gonna give on Tuesday. The Giants have won 16 consecutive Barry Zito starts, dating back to last season and including the playoffs. But he’s 0-4 with a 7.67 ERA in seven career starts at Miller Park. The Giants are 2-5 in those outings.
Nobody cares about beat writer problems, but it’s not so terribly convenient for us when Pence is the hero. He has a fairly comprehensive workout regimen that he does after games, and he doesn’t like to let his body cool down before he starts it.
So after a four-hour game, we had to stay in the clubhouse quite a bit longer to ask Pence about his huge home run. The Texas Rangers are coming here next. We were thinking about asking Joe Nathan to run a quote for us.
When Pence finally got back to the clubhouse, he was sprinting up the stairs. He said he knew we were waiting for him, and the clubhouse workers, too. But mostly, it was for the benefit of strength and conditioning coach Carl Kochan.
“I was trying to leave Carl in the dust,” said Pence, out of breath.
After all that waiting, we forgot to ask Pence the most important question. I’ll have to wait until Tuesday at Milwaukee to tell you the name of the bat he used to hit that home run.