NEW YORK – Tim Lincecum was a skinny Little Leaguer baffling 10-year-olds from Bellevue to Renton when Alex Rodriguez broke into the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners.
Nineteen years later, they faced each other in a major league game for the first time. Lincecum popped him up, got him to ground out and fanned him Friday night.
But A-Rod still beat him, and the Giants, as the Yankees stayed alive in the AL playoff picture with a 5-1 victory.
Lincecum walked away with the bases loaded after the Yankees mounted a soft but serious rally against him in the seventh inning, and right-hander George Kontos threw the pitch that emptied it. Rodriguez got enough of a 2-1 fastball and slipped a tiebreaking grand slam over the right field fence.
It was the 24th of his career, establishing an all-time record. ARod had shared the mark with Lou Gehrig. We are guessing Bud Selig kept his hands in his pockets for this one, too.
Yankees fans booed Rodriguez all game. Suddenly, they were full of throaty approval and applause.
They saved some for Mariano Rivera, never an object of anyone’s scorn, when he pitched the ninth inning to cue Sinatra.
Starting pitching report
The last time Lincecum was on the list to pitch at Yankee Stadium, he ended up in the hospital. It was the All-Star Game in 2008 – the last year of the old park – and Lincecum came down with what the team described as dehydration and flulike symptoms.
He didn’t feel so good at the end of his outing this time, either.
Lincecum (10-14) was terrific through six innings. The only run he had allowed came in the second inning on Alfonso Soriano’s line drive home run, which would’ve been a single at AT&T Park.
He pitched around Pablo Sandoval’s error. He was quick to the plate to control the running game. He pitched around a single in the fifth when left fielder Brett Pill read Brendan Ryan’s hyperactive swing instead of the end-of-the-bat contact, and let the floating drive land in front of him.
Lincecum even reached a milestone in the second inning, when he struck out Curtis Granderson for No. 1,500 in his career. He joined Christy Mathewson, Juan Marichal, Carl Hubbell and Gaylord Perry – all Hall of Famers – as the only pitchers to strike out that many as a Giant. And none of them did it in their first seven seasons. In fact, nobody has with the exception of Tom Seaver and Bert Blyleven – two more Hall of Famers.
Then came the seventh. Lincecum started the inning over 100 pitches but Giants manager Bruce Bochy hoped to coax him through one more frame to give his club one more shot at making a winner of Lincecum on a night that pit two former Cy Young Award winners.
Eduardo Nunez started the inning with a slow ground ball and first baseman Brandon Belt broke to his right but peeled off, perhaps not realizing that second baseman Joaquin Arias had been playing more up the middle. Could Belt have made a diving stop and flipped to Lincecum? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been an easy play by any stretch.
It was the kind of soft hit Lincecum pitched around all night. But this time he grazed Ryan’s jersey with a changeup, giving the Yankees multiple baserunners for the first time in the game. J.R. Purphy followed with a hard grounder that Sandoval did well to smother, but after stepping on the bag his throw to first base was wide. (Another play that, if made, would’ve been spectacular.)
Lincecum had one more batter and he couldn’t get Ichiro to offer at his changeup, walking him on five pitches, including his 121st and final one of the night.
Out came Bochy and in came George Kontos, who was so good at stranding inherited runners in the playoffs last year.
Kontos hasn’t been so good at it this year.
The right-hander threw three pitches in the dirt and Rodriguez chased one of them. Kontos followed with a 2-1 fastball on the outside edge that would have been the perfect pitch to make at AT&T Park, where you want right-handed batters to hit the ball in the air.
Not so at Yankee Stadium, where the cozy right field seats embraced the baseball. Cameras caught Lincecum hop up from the dugout bench and mutter something as he burned his way down the steps to the clubhouse.
Kontos, who was appearing at Yankee Stadium for the first time as a visitor, has allowed 15 of his 42 runners to score this season (35.7 percent).
Rodriguez carried a 1-for-35 streak into the at-bat against Kontos.
At the plate
The Giants lost this game in part because they simply couldn’t make anything of their many chances against CC Sabathia.
Buster Posey, who is playing with a fractured finger on his right hand, is 2 for 25 on this road trip and grounded into a double play with runners at the corners in the first ining.
The Giants had three hits and a walk in the first two innings but couldn’t net a run until the third, when Juan Perez doubled in Brandon Crawford. It was the second consecutive double for Perez, who missed a home run by a foot or two in the first inning.
Through his double in the third, Perez, who grew up in the Bronx, had five hits in five at-bats over two days at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.
Brett Pill grounded into another rally-killing double play in the fourth and the Giants barely threatened again.
Credit catcher Hector Sanchez with a solid game. Despite taking a ball off his bare hand and then almost immediately getting another off the mask that left him shaken for a few moments, Sanchez stayed in there and caught all eight innings.
Not only did he throw out a runner for Lincecum, but he also smothered three of Kontos’ pitches – any of which could’ve brought in the go-ahead run before Rodriguez’s slam.
The Yankees announced 41,734 paid, and while it wasn’t exactly like taking over Petco Park or Citi Field, Giants fans certainly made themselves heard in the Bronx.
The Giants and Yankees continue their three-game interleague series at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Ryan Vogelsong (3-5, 3.73 ERA) takes the mound against right-hander Ivan Nova (8-5, 3.36). First pitch is scheduled for 10:05 a.m. PDT.