Lincecum baffles Phillies for 12th win
Uribe hits two sac flies to provide all San Francisco's offense
SAN FRANCISCO -- To the Giants and their fans, Tim Lincecum has been worth watching since the first time he threw off a bullpen mound during Spring Training in 2007. But it's no longer just curiosity about Lincecum, his unique style or his entertainment value that commands attention.Increasingly, it's his greatness. Perhaps it's premature to apply such a superlative to a 25-year-old who made only his 80th Major League appearance in San Francisco's 2-0 victory Saturday night over the Philadelphia Phillies. But Lincecum's eight-inning effort, which ranged from dominant to dramatic, provided more evidence that a remarkable career is unfolding. Lincecum improved his career record to a staggering 37-13 by defeating the reigning world champions. Atlanta's Tim Hudson (38-12 with Oakland) is the only active Major League pitcher to compile a better record through his first 50 decisions. The public realizes what's happening with Lincecum. That's why the Giants registered their 10th home sellout of the season with a paid crowd of 42,694, nearly 9,000 more than the previous evening. Players realize it, too. Ask San Francisco's Aaron Rowand, whose vantage point from center field gives him a clear view of Lincecum's artistry. "Obviously, Timmy's amazing. He goes out and executes pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch," Rowand said. "You find yourself being a spectator, watching him do what he does. It's fairly difficult to concentrate on every pitch, because he's out there hitting his spots with every pitch that he throws. ... Then the guy hits one at you and you're like, 'Oh.'" Lincecum (12-3) didn't approach the dazzling quality of his previous start, when he struck out a career-high 15 against Pittsburgh. The Phillies amassed seven hits in the first five innings off Lincecum, but he stranded eight baserunners, including five in scoring position. Then he retired the final 10 batters he faced. Philadelphia tested Lincecum most seriously in the fifth inning, loading the bases with two outs on Ryan Howard's infield single, a grounder that second baseman Eugenio Velez could have charged from his position on the outfield grass. Lincecum responded by retiring Raul Ibanez on another grounder to second on the very next pitch. "Those are the situations when you have to buckle down the most," said Lincecum, who dispatched Ibanez with a curveball. "...That team can hurt you with anybody in their lineup. Hopefully it's not a pitch they want to swing at all the way, and I think that's what I was able to do with [Ibanez]." Lincecum trimmed his ERA to 2.18, second in the National League only to teammate Matt Cain's 2.12, and struck out eight to increase his Major League-leading total to 191. The ace has now struck out eight or more batters in his past 10 starts.
Lincecum generated most of the whiffs with his changeup, which is increasingly becoming his most devastating pitch."He's one of the shorter guys [5-foot-11] you'll face, but the ball comes out hot," Philadelphia outfielder Jayson Werth said. "It's tough to distinguish the offspeed from the fastball. You really don't see it until late because of his arm speed. He has such great arm speed. He's one of the premier guys in the game." The Giants' minimal offense sufficed for Lincecum and Brian Wilson, who notched his 27th save with a perfect ninth inning. Juan Uribe hit sacrifice flies in the fifth and seventh innings to drive in both runs.
The first was particularly adventuresome, since Uribe hit what was essentially a popup that Matt Stairs caught in shallow right-center field. But Rowand broke from third base, dove around catcher Paul Bako -- who moved to the third-base side of the home-plate dirt to take Stairs' strong, but slightly wide, throw -- and swept the plate with his right hand.Discussing the situation with third-base coach Tim Flannery before Uribe batted may have hastened Rowand's dash. Flannery and Rowand agreed that with Lincecum due to bat after Uribe, trying to score on almost any batted ball was worth the gamble.
"In your mind, you have to play the odds," Flannery said.Rowand again was fortunate after Phillies starter Joe Blanton (7-5) hit him above the left elbow with a seventh-inning pitch. X-rays revealed no fracture for Rowand, who spent 10 games out of the lineup after being hit in the right arm July 20 at Atlanta.
"[When] you continually get hit in spots that affect you, that gets frustrating," Rowand said.Otherwise, the Giants have avoided frustration. They've won seven of their last 10 games, a stretch that features a 5-1 mark on their current homestand that ends Sunday, and they remain tied with Colorado for the NL Wild Card lead. Until now, the Giants have dismissed the Wild Card by saying it's too early to follow those standings. But with August's arrival, the daily packet of statistics issued at each Major League game now includes the Wild Card rundown. The Giants know they've entered a serious phase. "It's something San Francisco probably wanted for the last couple of years," Wilson said. "We're glad we can show them what we're made of and get baseball back on the map over here."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.