It was a game that had the Atlanta Braves reaching for pitches, and the media reaching for comparisons. If it wasn’t the finest game Tim Linececum ever has pitched for the Giants, it no question was the most important he ever pitched.
This was what the Giants needed in their first postseason game in seven years: A sellout crowd of 43,936 at AT&T dressed in orange and black and unbelievably raucous, and Lincecum throwing fastballs and change-ups to near perfection.
This also was what the Giants needed in the opener of the National League Division Series, a solitary run, which, they managed to get when in the fourth, Buster Posey — who else? — was given a steal of second when some thought he was out, and then scored on a single by Cody Ross.
So, San Francisco, all too typical in a season when it rarely scores and the opponents score even less, gets a 1-0 victory and hopes that the percentages stay true: seven times out of 10 the Game 1 winner going on to take the best-of-five series.
“All the pitches just kind of filled the strike zone,” Lincecum said. “I don’t know what could be better than a shutout.”
Lincecum, who had only one complete game in 33 starts during the regular season, went the full nine in this one, striking out a Giants postseason record 14 — those K’s on the right-field bricks kept growing and growing — and allowed only two hits.
“His breaking stuff is always out of the strike zone,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Lincecum. “You can tell people not to swing, but it’s easier said than done. We got only two runners to second base the whole game.”
Lincecum, called The Freak — for his odd windup and delivery — and The Franchise, for what he means — gave up a double to the first man up, Omar Infante, and then retired nine straight. Five of those were by successive strikeouts of Derrek Lee, Brian McCann, Alex Gonzalez, Matt Diaz and Brooks Conrad. The last three each went down on three swings apiece in the second.
“He had everything working,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Lincecum, “and we needed it. They pitched well. Derek Lowe pitched well [for Atlanta]. So we needed that effort, and you know it was one of the best efforts I’ve ever seen.
“What a great job the kid did. He’s tough.”
Bochy said there was no doubt in his mind Lincecum was going the full way.
“He had that look,” said the manager. “Tonight, he went out and pitched as fine a game as you can pitch.”
A game that had the fans chanting “Let’s go Giants, Let’s go Giants.” A game that had the usual sweet torture, as the question was always there whether a team that lost five 1-0 games in the regular season somehow might lose one more. Not this time it wouldn’t. Because Lincecum, the National League Cy Young Award winner in 2008 and ’09, wasn’t giving up anything.
And the fans were giving their all.
“There was a lot of electricity out there,” said Posey, who as catcher called the pitches. “A complete game, 14 strikeouts, there’s going to be plenty to get excited about.”
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.