PHOENIX -- Disappointment and dismay marked the end of Tim Lincecum's season Sunday. But he already began finding hope for next season.Lincecum became one of the unlikeliest pitchers in history to have a losing record as the Giants lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 5-2. The two-time Cy Young Award winner and four-time All-Star absorbed the decision to finish with a 13-14 mark, the first sub-.500 mark in his five-year career. Asked if he struggled with the reality of a losing season, Lincecum replied, "Yes and no. I left everything out there on the field. That's a positive I can take from it. You just try to do what you can to put your team in position to win. I know there were several times out there that I didn't do that." As usual, Lincecum served as his toughest critic. Statistics other than his record reflected the excellence he sustained in 2011. He exceeded 200 strikeouts for the fourth year in a row, amassing 220. His 2.31 ERA after the All-Star break reflected his improvement as the year progressed. His 2.38 road ERA proved that he didn't rely on pitcher-friendly AT&T Park to survive. And his 2.74 overall ERA emphasized that his record can be attributed to the paltry run support he received. The Giants mustered two runs or fewer in 21 of his 33 starts, including zero runs in 10 of his outings. For further perspective -- and to demonstrate the rarity and quality of Lincecum's performance -- consider that only four other pitchers since 1901 combined a losing record, an ERA of 2.74 or lower and at least 200 strikeouts in a single season: Milwaukee's Ben Sheets (12-14, 2.70, 264 strikeouts in 2004), the Chicago White Sox Ed Walsh (18-20, 1.27, 258 K's in 1910), San Francisco's Gaylord Perry (15-17, 2.61, 230 K's in 1967) and Brooklyn's Nap Rucker (13-19, 2.24, 201 K's in 1909). Walsh and Perry are in baseball's Hall of Fame. "You try to take away what happened during the whole season, build on the positives and erase the negatives," said Lincecum, striving to maintain similar perspective. The Giants are tentatively scheduled to start the 2012 regular season here against the D-backs at Chase Field, with Lincecum probably receiving the Opening Day assignment. He regarded this as fitting, particularly after Arizona completed its first three-game sweep of the Giants at home since Sept. 16-18, 2008. Being swept by the new National League West champions, said Lincecum, "might fire us up a little bit more to hopefully go out there and kick some butt the next time." Lincecum's afternoon took an unpleasant turn in the first inning when his 1-2 fastball to Justin Upton struck the D-backs right fielder squarely on his batting helmet. The initial tests Upton underwent revealed that he avoided a concussion, though he felt nauseous running the bases after being hit and will be examined further on Monday. Lincecum was clearly shaken, as he admitted later. He edged toward home plate to check on the fallen Upton's condition but was waved away by well-meaning D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, who wanted to prevent an incident. Lincecum's first two pitches to the next batter, Miguel Montero, were offspeed pitches, signaling his diminished aggressiveness. Montero proceeded to hit a two-run double. "I was kind of afraid to [pitch inside] in for fear of that kind of stuff happening again," said Lincecum, who surrendered all of Arizona's runs and eight hits in five innings. "I know situations like that can be extremely scary. I definitely wanted to go in there and see if he was all right. During the game I had one of the players send a message over there saying it was a complete accident. There was no intention of doing that. He sent back that he was fine. ... I felt a little timid trying to make pitches in on batters after that." The D-backs sensed Lincecum's concern.
"You definitely feel for Lincecum because you can tell right away there was nothing intentional there," Arizona closer J.J. Putz said. "I think it kind of shook him up a little bit, maybe got him off his game a little bit. I'm just glad J-Up is going to be OK."This was the Giants' first game as non-postseason contenders, and it showed. They didn't loaf, but their absence of spirit indicated it's just as well that only three games remain to be played. By contrast, the D-backs looked like a team gearing up for the postseason. "They outplayed us, outhustled us, everything," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.