SAN FRANCISCO – It’s been awhile since Tim Lincecum threw back-to-back starts without allowing a run, and we’ll save you the trouble of looking it up.
It was May 4 and 10, 2011, when he was still near enough to his Cy Young seasons to believe his next run of dominance was right around the corner.
Too much time has passed now to believe Peak Freak will ever return again. But Lincecum is offering a flashback when the Giants are most in need of an attitude adjustment. A dose of nostalgia will do nicely.
Lincecum used his fastball to set up his breaking pitches. But he also used his fastball to set up more fastballs, and the St. Louis Cardinals never got wise in the Giants’ 5-0 victory Tuesday night at AT&T Park.
Lincecum, who was coming off his no-hitter of the San Diego Padres last Friday, held the Cardinals to four hits in eight innings. He has thrown 17 consecutive scoreless innings – the most zeroes in a row he’s ever thrown over a two-start span.
Pablo Sandoval’s 100th career regular-season home run, a two-run shot in the fourth inning, was the biggest hit in a productive night for the heart of the order as the Giants won the first game of a series for the first time since June 6. They had lost six consecutive series openers.
Starting pitching report
Lincecum (7-5) allowed four hits, walked two, hit a batter and struck out six in eight innings.
He mixed different sequences against the Cardinals than he did in his no-hitter, when the Padres kept swinging over the top of his slider.
He took advantage of the Cardinals’ scouting report, flummoxing them with well located fastballs when perhaps they were looking for the slider. He made Yadier Molina look especially feeble on a five-pitch strikeout in the second inning.
Allen Craig protected the legacy of Johnny Vander Meer with a single up the middle in the second inning.
In his previous start, Lincecum only faced two batters out of the stretch. He had to do his most important work out of the stretch this time, after Jhonny Peralta doubled to start the fourth. Matt Adams singled and Lincecum hit Molina with a 2-2 pitch to load the bases with no outs.
But Lincecum got ahead 0-2 on the next two batters. He struck out Craig on a slider, then did the same to Jon Jay before getting Daniel Descalso to ground out to end the inning. Lincecum punched his glove and let out a shout. In many ways, the bases-loaded, no-out jam was more of a crucible than anything he did in his previous outing.
Lincecum’s final pitch count after eight innings was 113 and 73 strikes. Not to inflict any cranial damage on you, but the pitch count in his no-hitter was … 113 and 73.
It marked the fifth time in his career he has pitched consecutive starts without allowing a run. As mentioned earlier, the previous time was in 2011. He hadn’t thrown as many as 17 shutout innings over any of those previous four pairs of starts, though.
The 5-0 lead offered a nice opportunity for Giants manager Bruce Bochy to get right-hander Jean Machi back on the beam.
Machi had allowed runs in his previous two appearances to blast apart a 25.1-inning scoreless streak that began in mid-April. Perhaps Machi started a new streak when he pitched around a leadoff single in a scoreless ninth.
At the plate
Bochy considered moving up Hunter Pence from the No.2 spot to leadoff, but didn’t want to shorten the rest of his lineup as a result. No matter.
Pence led off the fourth inning and started the Giants’ three-run inning. He scored on Buster Posey’s double and Sandoval followed by lofting a pitch from Marco Gonzales that settled in the second row of the left field bleachers.
The Giants didn’t score again in the fourth, but they played tug o’war with Gonzales’s pitch count. Miclael Morse doubled and a two-out intentional walk brought Lincecum to the plate. He ended up working an 11-pitch at-bat before grounding out to end the inning.
Lincecum, oddly enough, entered the night with a team-leading 4.63 pitches per plate appearance. Perhaps that’s why he continued to stand in the batter’s box after taking ball four in the sixth inning. He was expecting to be there longer than six pitches.
Juan Perez, who was 0 for 9 as the leadoff batter before Tuesday, singled to start a two-run fifth inning. Pence’s double combined with a misplay in left field to score Perez, and Hector Sanchez hit an RBI ground out with the bases loaded.
The Giants played with the kind of confidence and aplomb that helped them ratchet up to 21 games over .500 at the beginning of June.
There was no shortage of terrific plays that saved Lincecum’s pitch count. Sandoval made a diving stop at third base and Posey applied the tag on a jogging Yadier Molina in the sixth. Then Pence took a perfect angle on a dead sprint to catch Allen Craig’s deep drive.
Once again, Sanchez got the ever living crap beaten out of him behind the plate. He took a foul tip off the mask and was attended by trainers for several minutes after a breaking ball off the plate came up and hit him in the right wrist.
The Giants announced 41,152 paid. Fredbird wears yellow gloves.
The Giants and Cardinals continue their three-game series at AT&T Park on Wednesday. Ryan Vogelsong (5-4, 3.96 ERA) takes the mound against Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright (10-4, 2.01). First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. PDT.