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08/22/07 2:29 AM ET
Lincecum's gem dashed in ninth
Rookie can't complete shutout; Giants' streak snapped
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum's brilliance Tuesday night was clouded by the Giants' 5-1 loss and his ninth-inning collapse. But perhaps this was the sort of setback that will prepare Lincecum for greater efforts. Approaching his dazzling best, Lincecum took a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning. He had yielded only two singles, issued one walk and hadn't allowed a Cub to stray past first base. Having thrown just 88 pitches, the rookie right-hander seemed primed for his first complete game and shutout. But Lincecum learned something about the unforgiving atmosphere of a Major League ninth inning, a realm he hadn't reached in his previous 19 starts. Opponents become more stubborn; outs are recorded more grudgingly. The Cubs chased Lincecum by opening the ninth inning with three consecutive hits: Ryan Theriot's double to right field, Jacque Jones' single past diving third baseman Pedro Feliz and Derrek Lee's first-pitch RBI single. Brad Hennessey replaced Lincecum (7-4) and walked Aramis Ramirez to load the bases, then yielded Cliff Floyd's two-run single. After Mark DeRosa's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners, Jason Kendall grounded another two-run single off Steve Kline. Chicago's uprising ended the Giants' five-game winning streak and shattered their 49-0 record when leading after eight innings. But it also might have furthered Lincecum's big-league education. "That was the first time he's been in that situation here," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Experience helps out there. He might have been a little hyped up there and left the ball up." "You have to concentrate the whole game, the whole 27 outs, especially when you have a one-run lead," shortstop Omar Vizquel said. Vizquel suggested that Lincecum's concentration might have been tested by the sight of a busy bullpen. Given Lincecum's domination of the Cubs, Vizquel thought that ordering anybody to warm up was unnecessary. Hennessey began throwing before the inning began, followed moments later by Kline. "It's just unbelievable, the way the ninth inning developed right in front of your eyes," Vizquel said. "As soon as I saw two guys coming out to the bullpen, I said, 'Why is this happening?' ... [Lincecum's] young. Anything can kind of get him out of focus. Any little move can cause distraction." Particularly against the Cubs, who remained in a virtual tie with Milwaukee for first place in the National League Central. "That happens when you're playing against a good team," Vizquel said. "The Cubs are probably the No. 1 or second-best team in the National League right now. When you're playing the No. 1 team, every little mistake, every little pitch counts." But there was no argument about leaving in Lincecum, who twice lasted eight innings previously this season, for the ninth. "I would have sent him out there the same way," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He had a low pitch count. It was his game." Lincecum, who returned to the active roster from bereavement leave earlier Tuesday, remained upset over a death in the family and declined to address reporters. He might have derived some consolation from the praise he elicited in both clubhouses. "It's hard to pitch better than what he did for eight innings," Bochy said. "He's got electric stuff. The best stuff I've seen all year," Theriot said. "The thing is, he's got such a good fastball that you want to look for it, then the breaking stuff shows up, which is really, really good also. I think he may have just left two fastballs up in the ninth, but he's got as good of stuff as anybody around. He's got the type of fastball that you look for because it's so hard. Then he throws the sinker that's just as hard, but it moves three feet. He's got some of the best stuff that I've seen all year, and I hope I don't see anybody who's better than him or else we're really in trouble." Lincecum's demeanor went to extremes. He fielded Theriot's third-inning comebacker with nonchalant insouciance, prompting Floyd to say, "You saw him [do] a little showboating." Lincecum also pumped his right fist triumphantly after striking out pinch-hitter Daryle Ward to end the eighth inning with a runner on first, but that didn't seem to upset the Cubs overtly. The Giants swung as if they were facing Lincecum, mustering three hits off Cubs starter Jason Marquis and two relievers as offensive dynamo Rajai Davis rested. A mixture of walks and groundouts generated San Francisco's lone run in the first inning. "We've got to put this behind us," Bochy said. "It's hard to lose a game like that when you get that kind of a pitching effort."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.