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Lincecum adds two-hitter to post-Cy resume

Lincecum two-hits Cards in shutout

ST. LOUIS -- It's looking more and more like Tim Lincecum actually is better than he was last year.

Such a notion should be ridiculous, given the type of performance Lincecum sustained while winning the National League Cy Young Award. But the right-hander recently has exceeded even his own lofty standards, and he continued his ascent Monday night with a career-best two-hitter in the Giants' 10-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lincecum (8-2) has thrown three complete games in his last four starts, including two shutouts. His only non-complete game in this stretch was the cursed June 17 outing against the Angels, who scored three tainted runs in his eighth and final inning. Lincecum has recorded a 1.03 ERA while allowing 24 hits in 35 innings during this stretch.

Bengie Molina, who has caught each of Lincecum's last 34 starts, believes that his batterymate senses when a complete game is imminent, explaining his durability.

"I think he smells that," Molina said. "He's close to the end, and he wants to finish the game."

Overall, Lincecum owns a 2.37 ERA, eclipsing last season's 2.62. He has walked 28 batters -- including none Monday -- in 114 innings, roughly one free pass every four innings. By comparison, he issued 84 walks in 227 innings a year ago, an average of one in slightly less than three innings.

Lincecum's success is notable not only for his results, but also his method. His pair of complete games in 2008, which he threw in consecutive starts on Sept. 13 and Sept. 18, were breathtaking but laborious efforts requiring 138 and 118 pitches, respectively.

This season, Lincecum's more of an artist than an attack dog. He remains capable of blowing away hitters, as his 37 strikeouts during this four-game stretch demonstrate. On Monday, his first of eight strikeout victims was St. Louis' Albert Pujols, widely regarded as the finest hitter on the planet. But Lincecum's just as likely to put away an opponent by inducing a ground ball or harmless fly on the second or third pitch of an at-bat, thus preserving his valuable arm.

Lincecum was at his economical best against the Cardinals. He threw 60 strikes in only 95 pitches and went to a three-ball count only twice, explaining why San Francisco's seventh victory in 10 games lasted only two hours and six minutes. In fact, Lincecum has started the Giants' three fastest games of the year, including his previous 2009 shutout, June 12 against Oakland (2:02) and May 26 against Atlanta (2:08).

The 25-year-old attributed his efficiency to improved location.

"I think I'm throwing my pitches down in the zone a little better. ... Guys are swinging early often," he said.

The rest of San Francisco's pitching staff has surged with Lincecum. Not only do the Giants lead the Major Leagues with nine shutouts, but they also have recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since Aug. 19-20, 2002, at Florida and against the New York Mets.

For a while, Lincecum appeared bound for even greater history. He maintained a perfect game for 4 2/3 innings, prompting everybody at Busch Stadium except Lincecum himself to ponder the possibility of a no-hitter.

"I never think about that," Lincecum said.

Rick Ankiel ended the no-hit bid by blooping a first-pitch, broken-bat single into right-center field. Pujols collected the other hit, a one-out double off the left-field wall in the seventh inning.

"Even though I gave up a couple of hits later in the game, I felt like my rhythm actually got better through the game," Lincecum said. "Between innings, I felt more comfortable and my offspeed stuff started working a little bit better, with the exception of the one I hung to Pujols."

Lincecum takes nothing for granted, which became obvious as he related his pregame thoughts regarding the Cardinals.

"When I saw the lineup card today, I was like, 'They're throwing pretty good guys at me,'" he said. "At the same time, I tried not to let that get to me. I'm good, I'm here for a reason and I can get these guys out if I can make the pitches I need to."

Told that those were surprising sentiments for a Cy Young winner, Lincecum explained, "I'm just being careful. I'm not getting ahead of myself and thinking I'm going to shut these guys down because of what I did. It's not about what I did, it's what I'm doing right now."

Usually, the Giants' offense, which has been lacking through much of the season, would command the most attention. They exceeded 10 hits for the fourth time in five games. Molina, who collected three hits, ended a personal 0-for-12 skid with a first-inning RBI single. Travis Ishikawa contributed a three-run homer in the fourth inning, Edgar Renteria's bases-loaded, three-run double highlighted a five-run seventh and Juan Uribe belted a 421-foot homer in the eighth.

But this was Lincecum's game from start to finish.

"It all started with the guy on the hill," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's one of the best games I've seen."

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

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