Lincecum will burst into the light again. He has proven that he's too skilled not to succeed. But the two-time reigning Cy Young Award winner, once considered a lock to thrive in each game, clearly has reached a stage where excellence is no longer assured. In this respect, he's like everyone else who has pitched in the Major Leagues since their inception.
Lincecum (8-3) allowed Boston four runs and five hits while lasting only three innings, his shortest outing since the April 7, 2009, season opener against Milwaukee. By contrast, Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester (9-3) surrendered five hits in his second complete game of the year.
Such dullness was common for Lincecum in May, when he finished 1-2 with a 4.95 ERA. He rebounded by posting a 3-0 mark with a 2.17 ERA in his first four June starts, proving that he can cope with his decelerated fastball and correct his occasionally faulty mechanics.
Nevertheless, Lincecum's box-score line from this game will puzzle casual observers who assume that he'll strike out 10 and allow no more than two runs each game.
"You don't think I go home saying the same thing to myself?" Lincecum said. "At the same time, you go through these outings and -- you don't accept it. You just get through it and try to bounce back."
Lincecum acknowledged that his delivery completely lacked the timing upon which he relies.
"I felt like I was a robot working out there," he said. "Things weren't moving smoothly, the way I wanted." The fact that the ball wasn't "coming out the same every pitch" confirmed to him that his woes were mechanical, not physical.
Indeed, Lincecum insisted that he felt fine, though the velocity readings on his fastball dipped from 92-93 in the first inning to the high 80-mph range before he left the game.
"I felt myself dropping off there a little bit," he said. "I still tried to battle through it. Obviously I didn't."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy downplayed Lincecum's flat fastball.
"He won the Cy Young Award [last year] with that velocity," said Bochy, who called Lincecum's rocky outing an "off day."
Boston slugger David Ortiz, who homered in the first inning, saw hints of the vintage Lincecum.
"Man, let me tell you, his delivery is kind of funky," Ortiz said. "He doesn't throw with the velocity that he used to, but his fastball, you still can feel that explosion. When he was 95, 96 up there, it had to be crazy."
Lincecum became the latest Giants starter to flounder, which partially explains why San Francisco has lost four of five games. The usually effective starters recorded a 9.40 ERA in that stretch. The Giants remain offensively challenged, having collected 11 hits while losing the series' final two games to Boston, but with pitching like this, it doesn't matter.
"We have to get this pitching on track. It's kind of gotten contagious," Bochy said.
Lincecum's troubles could partly be attributed to bad luck. With two outs in the first inning, Ortiz checked his swing on a 2-2 pitch and barely held back enough to avoid striking out. Ortiz didn't hold back on Lincecum's 3-2 delivery, driving it into San Francisco Bay for his 16th homer of the season.
Bill Hall collected a pair of ground-ball hits, a second-inning double and a third-inning RBI single, that barely eluded the diving tries of third baseman Pablo Sandoval and shortstop Edgar Renteria, respectively.
But Lincecum fueled Boston's two-run second inning by issuing a leadoff walk to Victor Martinez. Nor did Lincecum have any excuses as the rest of the inning unraveled. After intentionally walking Darnell McDonald later in the inning to load the bases, Lincecum fell behind on the count, 3-1, to Lester, who was hitless in 14 career at-bats over a span of four seasons. Forced to throw a strike, Lincecum threw a hittable one that Lester pounded to the right-field warning track for a sacrifice fly. Marco Scutaro then lined an RBI single to right.
In the third, Lincecum couldn't put away J.D. Drew, who walked on a 3-2 count with Kevin Youkilis on first base. That prolonged the inning for Hall's run-scoring hit.
Interestingly, Boston has thrived against the four Cy Young Award winners it has faced this year. In seven games against Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke (twice) and CC Sabathia (three times), the Red Sox are 6-1 while the award winners are a combined 0-4 with a 6.81 ERA.
"I hope that it means we have a good lineup and all the things we believe in," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "Sometimes you catch a guy not on their best day either, but you still have to take advantage of it. You can see from watching Lincecum why, when he's on his game, he's unhittable. There's deception and the offspeed pitches. To our credit, we made him work for everything. We drove his pitch count up real quick. And we had something to show for it."
The Giants have had nothing to show for their recent efforts. They trail National League West-leading San Diego by 4 1/2 games, matching their largest deficit since May 26.
"This is an important stretch for us," said Bochy, referring to the Los Angeles Dodgers' arrival for a three-game series starting Monday. "This is a part of the season that kind of determines where you're at. It's a measuring stick."
The Giants will end up holding the short end of that stick if they repeat Sunday's struggles too often.