SAN FRANCISCO -- Mistakes loom larger in October, larger still against Cliff Lee, larger still beneath the weight of a city's expectations. So Tim Lincecum hated himself for what happened in the first inning of Wednesday's World Series Game 1. His mistake seemed so critical at the time.
With runners on the corners and one out in the inning, Lincecum induced the ground ball that he needed, a tapper off the bat of the Rangers' Nelson Cruz. Michael Young, who was on third base at the time, commenced an ill-advised dash toward home. And Lincecum cornered him.
Then the funny stuff happened. Instead of trapping Young in a rundown, Lincecum -- believing there were two men at the bag -- absentmindedly chased him back to third base. It was a mental lapse, a patch of fog, "a little bit of a brain fart," as Lincecum put it.
"I don't know what happened," Young said.
Here's what happened: instead of having two men on base, the Rangers had three. Instead of having two outs, the Giants had one.
It could have made for a long inning, a damaging loss and a demoralizing series hole. But then Lincecum climbed back onto the mound, induced an inning-ending double play and continued to limit the damage into the sixth.
"You put it behind you," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "And Timmy did."
An hour or so later, after an outing that saw him give up four runs in 5 2/3 innings, Lincecum left to a standing ovation.
"He got himself out of some jams," Giants outfielder Cody Ross said. "He did amazing just to get through [5 2/3 innings]. That shows what kind of character he has, just battling. He knew he didn't have his good stuff, either."
"That's what your ace does," closer Brian Wilson said. "On nights that he doesn't have his best stuff, he finds a way to win."
It wasn't simply that Lincecum lacked his best fastball. It was the play at third base, also. It was the two hot comebackers that struck his body, prompting concern from the San Francisco bench. It was the fact that Lincecum was facing one of the best offenses in baseball, opposite unquestionably the hottest pitcher on the planet.
But Lincecum trusted in his offense, as Wilson put it. He gutted out 5 2/3 innings and he won.
"When you get to the playoffs, you start to realize that it's not so much about your stats," Lincecum said. "It's just who comes out on top at the end of the day."
Lincecum was also lucky, of course. Had the Giants been unable to rally back from a 2-0 hole against Lee, his spotty outing would have looked far worse in context. But San Francisco did fight back, and Lincecum became the beneficiary of that offense because he kept the Giants within striking distance.
Some pitchers, without their best stuff, would not have been capable of doing that. Some pitchers would have unraveled.
"He's got guts," Ross said. "He's not going to back down. He's going to come right at them."
"When you have a guy like that on the ropes, you have to try to put him away," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But you don't always put those kinds of guys away."
So it went for Lincecum in Game 1. The play at first base could have sunk him. It didn't. The comebackers could have rattled him. They didn't. The Rangers could have beaten him.
They have Lincecum to thank.
"It says a lot about his character to be able to maintain composure after getting hit twice and giving up two runs in the first two innings," Wilson said. "That's what you want out of your ace, and that's what he gave us. You're not going to have a dominant performance every time out -- it just can't happen. But for you to trust in your hitters and say I'm not going to let this get to me, that says a lot about our guy. That's our ace."