Yet Lincecum also buoyed the Giants' hopes. He struck out eight batters, victimizing the formidable Matt Kemp three times. His fastball reached 93 or 94 mph, depending on which velocity readings one followed. The right-hander struck out five of the first eight hitters he faced, looking every bit like the ace who won the National League Cy Young Award in 2008-09.
"I thought he had great stuff," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It was electric at times. He should be encouraged. We are. Unfortunately, that [fourth] inning counts."
So were Lincecum's spectacular moments a harbinger of impending, recaptured greatness? Or did the telling hit he surrendered to Gwynn on an 0-2 pitch suggest that he remains susceptible to lapses at any time?
Lincecum, who can be extremely self-critical, maintained his confidence.
"If you think negatively, you tend to go negatively," he said. "... If I'm going to take any positives away, the four innings around [the fourth] inning were fine."
Lincecum generated considerable excitement with his early excellence. He struck out the side in the first inning while stranding two Dodgers, breaking his pattern of instant trouble.
"I tried not to think too much about what was going on or do too much," said Lincecum, who had allowed 12 first-inning runs in his previous six starts. "I just tried to take what I did in the bullpen a little more seriously and pitch aggressively."
Then came the fourth, which began with the Giants leading, 2-0. Andre Ethier doubled before Bobby Abreu and Juan Uribe singled, generating a run. Lincecum struck out James Loney but walked A.J. Ellis to load the bases. Up came Gwynn, who scored all three runners by rocketing an 0-2 slider into the right-field corner.
Said Lincecum, "When it comes down to it, it's about executing a good pitch and not leaving up the pitches that I did -- the fastball to Abreu, the curveball up to Gwynn, especially in situations like that."
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly shared Lincecum's perspective: "He gets so many outs down in the zone, I felt we did a better job forcing him to get the ball up."
San Francisco saw plenty of elevated pitches from Los Angeles right-hander Chad Billingsley, who lasted just four innings. But the Giants stranded seven runners in that span.
Their worst lapse occurred in the third inning, when they wasted a chance to establish control. Melky Cabrera tripled and scored on Buster Posey's single. After Brandon Belt's grounder forced Posey at second base, Nate Schierholtz and Joaquin Arias both singled. Belt appeared bound to score on Arias' hit, but Kemp, compensating for his helplessness against Lincecum, threw out Schierholtz as he strayed too far rounding second base. Adam Kennedy made the tag before Belt could cross the plate, nullifying the run and ending the inning.
"[Kemp] made a perfect throw and I was just overaggressive," Schierholtz said. "He caught me one step too far. It was just a lack of judgment on my part."
Bochy didn't expect that type of mistake from Schierholtz, who he called "a good baserunner." Added Bochy, "That kept [the Dodgers] in the game. It was probably the turning point."
The Giants dropped their first 2012 series to their archrival, two games to one, by losing the rubber game for the first time in five tries this season. The National League West-leading Dodgers duly impressed Bochy.
"They're solid," he said. "They have pitching, they have a lineup with depth, they have speed, they have guys in the heart of the order -- you see the RBIs they have; that's something we're missing."