Freak finds form to lift Giants into tie for first

Freak finds form to lift Giants into tie for first

Freak finds form to lift Giants into tie for first
SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum recognized the cheering that his final pitch prompted from the AT&T Park throng. It was a roar of mingled triumph and delight, generated by fans celebrating not only an imminent victory but also the feats of a beloved hero.

"It's something I was used to hearing every once in a while," Lincecum said.

Maybe he'll hear it more frequently through the rest of the season. Ending a winless stretch that grew to stunning proportions, Lincecum allowed four hits in seven innings Wednesday and led the Giants to a 3-0 decision over the Los Angeles Dodgers that overflowed with history.

The afternoon was full of firsts for the Giants. They moved into a first-place tie with Los Angeles in the National League West. They posted their first three-game sweep of the Dodgers since July 30-Aug. 1, 2010, and blanked them in each game for the first time in the franchise's 129-year existence -- another unprecedented pitching achievement for the Giants that complemented Matt Cain's perfect game.

The Giants completed their first sweep featuring triplicate shutouts since an April 24-25, 1954, set (which included a doubleheader) against Philadelphia. They hadn't won three shutouts in a row since July 5-8, 1988, when they subdued the Cubs twice and the Cardinals once.

But this game's true significance had nothing to do with records and everything to do with the resurgence of Lincecum, the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner whose struggles reached unfathomable proportions weeks ago.

Lincecum (3-8) ended a stretch of 10 consecutive winless starts. He personally went 0-6 with a 6.23 ERA during that span. Wednesday's victory was his first since April 28, and it represented only his fourth quality start in 16 appearances.

Facing the challenge of emulating Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, who started the Giants' previous two victories, Lincecum purged himself of the flaws that plagued him all season. He issued only two walks after entering the game with the NL's third-highest total (45) in that category. Having allowed opponents to hit .330 off him with runners in scoring position, Lincecum held the Dodgers to 0-for-5 in such situations. Lincecum even contributed offensively, singling off Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley (4-7) to ignite a two-run third inning that opened the scoring.

After enduring so much frustration, Lincecum reveled in his renewal. "I found myself at exciting points in the game feeling a little bit of emotion and getting excited myself," he said.

Lincecum continued the ascent he began last Saturday in Oakland, where he allowed three first-inning runs and escaped a bases-loaded jam with three strikeouts in a row before no-hitting the A's for five innings. The right-hander indicated that he sustained his approach from that game: "If things go wrong, I just let it go and move on. That's kind of what I did against the A's and it worked out. So whatever would have happened today, I just tried to stay with that mental edge."

The Giants noticed a definite difference.

"He looked like he was on a mission," said right-hander Sergio Romo, who notched his fourth save while replacing a weary Santiago Casilla. "A mission to get back on track, back to who he's been, who we all know he's capable of being."

Said manager Bruce Bochy, "He carried himself with so much more confidence the last couple of outings. The confidence factor is so important. ... He realized how good he is."

A third-inning play demonstrated Lincecum's resilience and symbolized his progress. He flung a wild pitch with Billingsley on third base and one out. Catcher Hector Sanchez quickly recovered the ball and relayed it to the 5-foot-11, 167-pound Lincecum, who blocked the plate, made the tag and held onto the ball despite being knocked backward by the 6-1, 240-pound Billingsley. The incident recalled a sequence during a May 20 game, when Lincecum covered home plate after another wild pitch and Oakland's Collin Cowgill nearly planted him in the dirt around home plate while scoring with a headfirst slide.

Against Cowgill, Lincecum looked overpowered. Against Billingsley, he looked stubborn.

"I didn't want them to get a run," Lincecum said. "I'm not much to go through, but he was going to have to go through me to get to the plate."

The Dodgers didn't seriously test Lincecum until his final inning, when Juan Rivera stroked a leadoff single and A.J. Ellis walked one out later. Bochy went to the mound to discuss the jam with Lincecum, who remained in the game. Lincecum rewarded Bochy's faith by retiring Tony Gwynn on a fly ball and striking out Juan Uribe with his 115th pitch -- the one that thrilled the expectant crowd.

Lincecum noticed that Bochy jogged to the mound, which "gave me the inclination that I'm going to probably be in this game if I give him the right answer. He asked me, 'You got this?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'What?' I said, 'Yes, sir.'"

Lincecum admitted that regaining the full extent of his skills remains a work in progress. But he suggested that he had regained a sense of himself.

"To win today is big enough for me," he said.

Chris Haft is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.