Lincecum is sweet relief for Giants
Right-hander waits out rain delay to toss four strong innings
LOS ANGELES -- The Giants didn't just defy conventional wisdom while winning their first game of the season. They tested the bounds of sanity.Typically, the Giants have handled Tim Lincecum as if he lived in an egg carton. So it was mildly surprising when Lincecum returned to the mound after Wednesday night's one-hour, 14-minute rain delay at Dodger Stadium. Most teams would remove their pitcher, particularly a 23-year-old hard thrower such as Lincecum, following such inactivity out of concern for his arm stiffening. But the Giants banked on Lincecum's resiliency. And he rewarded them by pitching four strong innings in relief and singling to launch a tiebreaking sixth-inning rally as the Giants outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-1. "People have called me a freak of nature before," said Lincecum (1-0). "Now they have another reason to call me that." This was a night when starters became relievers and vice-versa, sacrifice flies represented the height of offensive potency and it rained in southern California. Both teams received pregame weather reports stating that they'd be able to play about two innings before storms would hit. Neither Giants manager Bruce Bochy nor his Dodgers counterpart, Joe Torre, wanted to use their respective No. 3 starters, Lincecum and Chad Billingsley, for what essentially would be a wasted outing. Each was scratched. Both emergency starters pitched briefly but effectively. Los Angeles left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo blanked the Giants on one hit through three innings. San Francisco right-hander Merkin Valdez, primarily a starter for his first six professional seasons before moving to the bullpen, struck out the side in the first inning on his way to two perfect innings. As it turned out, Billingsley and Lincecum could have gotten in enough work to save their respective teams' bullpens a little more. Rain started falling in the third inning, but didn't halt play until the top of the fifth. By then, each team had used three pitchers, and the Dodgers employed their fourth, Esteban Loaiza, after the delay. By contrast, the Giants stuck with Lincecum following the delay. These were the same Giants who prevented Lincecum from making his final two starts of last season for fear of taxing his arm and who nursed him carefully through a mild groin pull in Spring Training. But Bochy, who consulted pitching coach Dave Righetti, bullpen coach Mark Gardner and, of course, Lincecum himself, felt confident that the right-hander could handle the return trip to the mound. And Lincecum, who said that he hadn't worked in relief since his junior year at the University of Washington, insisted that he felt fine physically. "If we thought that we were going to hurt him, we wouldn't have done it," Bochy said, admitting that Lincecum would have been removed had the delay gone much longer. "It was close," Bochy said. "We felt if it got to an hour and a half, we probably wouldn't have done it." As it turned out, Lincecum allowed one run -- in the fourth, before the delay. He weathered constant trouble, allowing four hits and walking four. But he stranded four runners in scoring position, mirroring the Giants' offense. San Francisco left five runners in scoring position before finally scoring in the fifth and sixth on sacrifice flies by Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn. Lincecum, an .093 hitter last year, opened the latter rally with a one-out single off Loaiza (0-1). The Giants survived a pair of threats after Lincecum departed. With two outs in the eighth, Tyler Walker surrendered Andruw Jones' double and intentionally walked James Loney before Brian Wilson retired Matt Kemp on a comebacker.
The ninth began with first baseman Rich Aurilia's fielding error on Blake DeWitt's grounder, but Wilson pounced on Juan Pierre's sacrifice-bunt try and recorded a daring forceout at second base. Then came a game-ending double play consisting of Rafael Furcal's strikeout and catcher Bengie Molina's peg to second base to apprehend Pierre on an attempted steal."You can't say enough about how the pitchers picked each other up," 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.