A Freak occurrence: Lincecum's energy, Maxwell's dramatics drive Giants to victory 

click to enlarge Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, in his first start with his new haircut, shut down the rival Dodgers on Tuesday. - MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP
  • Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
  • Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, in his first start with his new haircut, shut down the rival Dodgers on Tuesday.

The man has pinot noir in a bin and cholesterol medicine on his desk. There is little danger of Bruce Bochy dropping even one F-bomb, much less an insane-asylumesque 77 in 5 minutes, 34 seconds. The author of that epic episode of clubhouse rage, Cincinnati manager Bryan Price, has a better chance of replacing Pope Francis than leading the Reds to a World Series. Bochy has won three of them, and if a tow truck happened to haul away his vehicle, he's not going Britt McHenry on anyone.

Instead, the sturdy old catcher with the seen-it-all equilibrium commanded his impotent team's attention Tuesday with four words: "We'd better play better." For Bochy, that represented an ultimatum of sorts, an acknowledgment that the Giants have struggled to pitch, strained to hit and are looking at a long year in baseball's premier division if they don't show a dramatic surge fairly soon. Unlike their three championship runs, when they bumped along and looked horrible in spurts, the sense this year is that they're inferior to the Los Angeles Dodgers and maybe not as good as the San Diego Padres. "The last thing you want to do is get too far back here early until we get our mojo or whatever going," Bochy said.

Meaning: When the evacuation plan is shown to fans before games on the AT&T Park big screen, it isn't intended as a master plan to bail out on a bad ballclub.

It will help the general outlook, and the mental condition at the stadium, if Tim Lincecum continues to evolve into a useful, even valuable weapon. When you enter through the media gate, you see a mural reminding that The Freak won Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009. Don't leap for joy too soon, knowing he no longer throws heat and hasn't justified the obscene amounts the Giants are paying for inconsistency. But whether it's about the offseason reunion he had with his father, as a way of fixing mechanics that had gone awry, or the shorn locks that left him with a close-cropped cut last week, Lincecum is regaining some measure of order in a career gone sour.

Though a bit wild, he limited the sizzling Dodgers to five hits and an earned run in six innings, energizing the Giants when they desperately needed something in a 6-2 victory. Lincecum was jacked as he chipped and finessed through a potent lineup, pumping his fist and cheering teammates as Big Time Timmy Jim worked out of jams. He became the first Giants pitcher since Livan Hernandez in 2002 to induce four double plays in a game, none sweeter than shortstop Brandon Crawford's latest sensational gem — diving stop, flip to second with the glove — that ended a threat in the sixth. Lincecum charged off the mound, then grinned when a replay upheld the call. This was the kind of airtight performance the Giants need to survive this season, with runs manufactured by contact and speed, and any reliability from an injury-and-age-battered rotation is more than welcome.

"I haven't had any game this season where I feel like I've had overpowering stuff. It's about pitchability," said Lincecum, who lowered his earned run average to 2.00 while evening his record at 1-1. "I'm not saying this is my evolution as a pitcher. I'm just trying to make my way with what I've got."

"It's the way he needs to pitch," Bochy said. "It's not always going to be 95, 96 [mph]. If this is where he has settled in, it works if he has command."

For all we know, the Splash Hits meter in right field might never advance beyond the current lonely 68. Crawford produced the first run with a two-out squeeze bunt, scoring Justin Maxwell. Nori Aoki beat out a chopper to bring home another run, and when Adrian Gonzalez's throw eluded pitcher Brett Anderson, who had taken an oddly circuitous path to first base, a second run scored. The Dodgers were unnerved enough by Aoki that reliever Adam Liberatore had the new leadoff hitter scrambling in the dirt, courtesy of a high-and-inside purpose pitch. That started the usual insults in the seats.

"We're in first place!" taunted a Dodgers fan behind home plate, heading early to the exit in a typical L.A. move.

"Win a World Series once in a while," a Giants fan retorted.

More thrills were ahead. Maxwell, a classic Giants find, produced highlights late in the night. First, he slid into the side wall in right field for a spectacular catch, which prevented a possible big inning for the Dodgers and earned him a standing ovation. Then he crushed a two-run homer to left, measured at 425 feet.

This is what Bochy hoped to see, a renewed focus after an off day that followed 14 games in 14 days. He knows his roster is ravaged by injuries and inferior efforts, and he knows Hunter Pence isn't returning May 1 as hoped. He'll take a victory, any victory.

"We played better, we pitched better. We need to be consistent," Bochy said. "You can't win it here [in April], but you could lose it here if we don't play better ball."

Indeed, one game is one game. The record is 5-10. And to depend entirely on the pitchers and hitters to locate their "mojo or whatever" is to misdirect the issue. If the Giants are as dreary as they've looked, the front office has only itself to question. The Brian Sabean administration has earned the right to mess up, I suppose, after winning three titles in five years. But fans shouldn't be accepting sudden failure as a pay-the-piper settlement for repeated glory, something I'm hearing way too much inside Muni trains and King Street taverns. With their considerable revenues and resources, the Giants never should let themselves slip into an abyss.

At this point, it appears Sabean and Bobby Evans overvalued their roster in the offseason. At no point during this franchise's mini-dynasty did we see a powerhouse as much as a quilt stitched together with chemistry, character and, above all, dominant pitching. The Giants have been flawed survivalists, and with three rings, a sellout streak now at 335 games and a franchise value of $2 billion, they had no reason not to splurge. I've hinted at this for weeks, conceding them the benefit of doubt and respecting their methods as wildly successful. But that doesn't mean there can't be revisions in their big-picture strategy, allowances for major injuries and bad breaks. Small-revenue teams, such as the A's, have slim margins for error because of lowly payrolls. The Giants should have known Matt Cain might wind up back on the disabled list, or that a wild child like Pence would break a forearm just by being Pence.

And they should have compensated. But after Jon Lester rejected their offer, they retreated from the marquee pitching game, leaving James Shields for the Padres and Max Scherzer for the Washington Nationals while re-signing the much cheaper Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong. Those look like gigantic mistakes. And when Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse were allowed to depart, they came up with Casey McGehee as the middle-of-the-order replacement, which also is looking like a gigantic mistake. Rather than fortify a champion, the Giants patched holes in their denim.

They reply by pointing at their payroll, still among baseball's highest. But it also is weighed down by top-heavy contracts, none more awkward than Lincecum's. With Cain's future in doubt — he's on the hook for a potential $55 million-plus the next three seasons — it's paramount Lincecum pay dividends in the final year of a two-year, $35 million deal. Never, ever say the Giants are cheap. Do wonder why they reward players for past deeds rather than current realities. Lincecum can make the front office look better with a standout season. This is not to advocate wild spending as a general way of doing business. The Dodgers, for one, have made the Giants look especially savvy in their wacky-payroll recklessness. But when you have trophies AND riches, nothing is wrong with erring on the side of extravagance.

For a night, anyway, the blame fingers have been put away. When you beat the Dodgers behind The Freak, all seems right in the world, even if it may not be.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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