SAN FRANCISCO – Tim Lincecum received a standing ovation Saturday night. And the Giants offense finally stood up for him, too.
The Giants snapped out of the offensive fog that had enveloped them at Third and King ever since the All-Star break, scoring four times in the first inning against Francisco Liriano and taking a 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at AT&T Park.
Can’t remember the last time the Giants scored six runs at home? That’s because it was before the break – July 9 against the Mets, in a game they lost 10-6. The Giants had averaged 2.18 runs in their 22 home games since the break, and on a related note, they had a 7-15 home record over that span.
No wonder Lincecum couldn’t stop laughing during his at-bat in the first inning. It’s not often any Giants pitcher gets to bat in the first inning, after all.
The Giants benefited from some broken bats and dribblers to get their RBIs in the first inning, but it counted the same as clean singles. They had a few of those, too, while adding on runs in the sixth and seventh.
Lincecum won for just the second time in seven starts since his no-hitter July 13 at San Diego.
Starting pitching report
Lincecum’s final line (5 1/3 innings, 3 hits, 3 earned runs, 4 walks, 8 strikeouts) didn’t reflect how well he pitched.
The right-hander had similar stuff to his no-hitter night, and stayed within his delivery from pitch to pitch. The Pirates had just one hit against him until the fifth, when Tony Sanchez led off with his first big league home run to snap Lincecum’s shutout.
Lincecum (7-13) pitched around a walk and a wild pitch later in the fifth, much as he pitched around the two walks he issued to start the fourth. But all those deep counts caught up with him in the sixth.
The Giants might have let Lincecum throw a career-high 148 pitches in his no-hitter, but with nothing at stake, they’re trying to lighten the load on all their pitchers. So with Lincecum approaching 100 pitches after a one-out walk to Andrew McCutchen in the sixth, Dave Righetti came to the mound and Jose Mijares began to warm up.
Lincecum, facing his last batter needed a ground ball for a double play to finish the sixth. He got the grounder from Pedro Alvarez. But it snuck inside the first base line for a double, not a double play, and this time it was Bruce Bochy who came to the mound to take the baseball with a 5-1 lead.
At least Lincecum was assured he wouldn’t take a loss for the third consecutive start.
It took three pitches for the Giants bullpen to cash in Lincecum’s runs. Pinch hitter Gaby Sanchez whacked an RBI single up the middle on Mijares’ second pitch. Then Jean Machi entered and Tony Sanchez hit a carbon-copy single on the first pitch.
The bullpen did not err again, and Sergio Romo retired three batters in the ninth to record his 31st save in 35 chances.
At the plate
Liriano is going to wind up on a lot of Cy Young ballots for the work he’s done leading this high-achieving Pirates rotation. But he’s had a couple of rough starts mixed in there, and the baseball gods for once aligned with the Giants in the first inning.
They didn’t exactly throttle Liriano while matching their season high with a four-run first inning. Buster Posey’s RBI hit came on a pitch that sawed off his bat. Brett Pill’s RBI single was a dribbler down the third base line. And Pablo Sandoval took a half swing while hitting an RBI ground out to second base.
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But credit Marco Scutaro and Joaquin Arias for going single-double to put Liriano in the stretch from the get-go. And credit Gregor Blanco for capping the rally by slapping a single to left field on a pitch that was almost in the catcher’s glove. It was a nice piece of hitting against a pitcher who had held left-handed hitters to a .137 average this season.
The Giants continued to get traffic against Liriano in the next three innings, and while they didn’t score, they drove him out after four innings and 102 pitches. Posey had hits in each of his three at-bats against Liriano – his first three-hit game since the All-Star break. (He notched nine of them prior to the break.)
The Giants added a run in the fifth when Hector Sanchez was hit by a pitch, advanced on Blanco’s single, took third on Lincecum’s sacrifice and scored on a wild pitch. And they tacked on another in the sixth when Sandoval’s two-out single scored Hunter Pence.
It was the Giants’ fourth hit with runners in scoring position. They had just three in the previous three games combined.
Sandoval made a nice stop down the line of Andrew Lambo’s hard grounder to help Machi escape the sixth. It appeared Sandoval had time to outrun the Gaby Sanchez for the force at third base, but he trusted his arm more than his wheels. Posey, at first base, made a nice one-hop pick to end the inning.
Scutaro caught a fly ball in shallow right field, which has been a huge issue for him this season. But the second baseman also fumbled a potential double-play grounder that should have ended the seventh inning. Sandy Rosario and Javier Lopez picked up Scutaro by retiring a hitter apiece to strand two runners.
Scutaro has 13 errors, two behind Sandoval for the team lead.
The Giants announced 42,059 paid, and the crowd gave Lincecum a loud, sustained ovation as he walked off the mound. They’ll always love him here.
The Giants complete their seven-game homestand as well as their four-game series against the Pirates on Sunday. Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.29 ERA) takes the mound against right-hander A.J. Burnett (6-8, 3.09). First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. PDT.