Giants waste no time making opening statement
LOS ANGELES -- Six months later, megadeals and bold headlines and declarations aside, not much has changed. The Giants rolled into Dodger Stadium and took two of three games, leaving the Dodgers and their fan base deflated and perhaps more than a little agitated. At least this time they have some season left -- 159 games, to be precise.
Six months from now it might be a different story, but as of the moment it's still the Giants' world. The season's opening series, ending in a 5-3 Giants decision in front of 52,906, distilled all the spirits of a heady brew that has carried them to World Series championships two of the past three years.
In the wake of Clayton Kershaw's Opening Day masterwork, San Francisco found familiar and creative ways to win: with pitching, defense and, finally, a power display courtesy of Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence.
Manager Bruce Bochy, whose touch has become golden, coaxed from his athletes whatever the situation demanded, from reigning National League Most Valuable Player Buster Posey on down through the ranks.
"It's always great to get off to a good start against a pretty good ballclub on the road," Bochy said. "We know how much baseball's left."
In Wednesday night's rubber match, Tim Lincecum looked more like Tim Lincecum, not the lost soul inside No. 55 who scuffled through 2012. He walked seven guys in five innings -- definitely not ideal -- but several were of the strategic variety. It's not often you win a game throwing almost as many balls (45) as strikes (46), yet that's what Lincecum did.
Like his team, he was able to find what he needed when it mattered. That might capture the essence of the champs, a willful band.
"He battled and competed," Bochy said. "For them to go 1-for-9 [against Lincecum with runners in scoring position] shows he's got the ability to make pitches when he had to and not let things go awry. At times he did that last year.
"He was a little off at times, but he found a way to get it done. That's what it's about. Really a gutty effort by Timmy tonight."
Misplays by Hector Sanchez on a passed ball and Posey at first base made both runs surrendered by Lincecum unearned. He bowed his head and went to work, controlling damage. It might not be the overpowering, Cy Young Award-winning Timmy, but it's a big improvement over the Lincecum who couldn't find himself in 2012 until he went to the bullpen in October and just cut loose.
Josh Beckett, the Dodgers' starter, would have been better off throwing fewer strikes. He was repeatedly ahead in counts, only to watch the Giants hurt him.
Brandon Crawford was 0-2 when he produced the team's first extra-base hit of 2013, a double to right, in the third inning. After a quality at-bat by Lincecum, who rolled into an RBI out after being down 1-2, Pablo Sandoval gave "Kung Fu Panda" fans a treat.
On yet another two-strike count, Sandoval tomahawked a Beckett fastball off the railing in the right-field pavilion and into the seats for a two-run homer. A Skip Schumaker error at second had prolonged the inning.
"Pablo's home run was a big lift," said Pence, who went deep in the sixth against Beckett on a 2-1 delivery. "It's kind of known around the league he can hit bad pitches. He's a free swinger with some of the best hands I've ever seen.
"I don't know what a pitcher's going to think when he throws one up and in, almost hits him, and he connects with it. It's unique ... amazing to watch. If you're a fan of the game, it's something special."
The Dodgers kept waiting in vain for one of their big boppers to do some damage. After Kershaw's Opening Day homer and shutout, Team Guggenheim fell flat. Madison Bumgarner tied the offense in knots in the middle game before Lincecum and a deep, resourceful bullpen finished the job.
While his effort was not as tidy as he would have liked, Lincecum was cool under duress. Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier -- the heart of manager Don Mattingly's order -- were a combined 0-for-7 against Lincecum with a pair of walks.
"I'm rooting for him as hard as I can, like with all of our guys," Pence, the right fielder, said. "He pitched great tonight. We have all the confidence in the world in him. I know how nasty he is; I've faced him a lot of times."
After Lincecum's exit, the Dodgers teased their fans, loading the bases with none out against lefty Jose Mijares. George Kontos, victim of Kershaw's blast, induced Kemp to tap into a double play, and southpaw Javier Lopez struck out Gonzalez.
Ethier doubled leading off the seventh, but in came journeyman Chad Gaudin to deliver two spotless innings. Sergio Romo closed the show in style.
"It is satisfying for us, [to win] our first series after the World Series," Lincecum said. "We played with heart and left it out on the field."
If that's the Giants way, so is this: Pence underplaying the significance of three games to open a season.
"It's meaningless," he said. "It always feels good to get a series, but we've got a long way to go."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.