Lincecum received 15 runs of support on July 7 at Milwaukee in his last start, but functioned smoothly with much more modest backing this time. He made Pablo Sandoval's two-out, second-inning RBI double stand up for most of the evening, until Aaron Rowand hustled home to beat first baseman Ike Davis' throw on Buster Posey's bases-loaded, one-out grounder in the eighth.
"Especially after the second inning when we got that run, I just wanted to definitely take it upon myself to shut them down, just throw up zeros any way I could," said Lincecum, who struck out five while recording 12 outs on fly balls and nine on grounders. Posey, San Francisco's rapidly developing catcher, threw out Carlos Beltran on a fourth-inning steal attempt for the 27th out.
"I wasn't trying to go for strikeouts," added Lincecum, who entered the game as the National League leader in that category, "just make good pitches and be aggressive. Obviously Posey helped with that."
Indeed, the outcome bore dual significance for the Giants.
They sustained the momentum they established by winning six of seven games approaching the All-Star break. They also gained a game on third-place Los Angeles, which lost at St. Louis.
Moreover, Lincecum and Posey ended any lingering doubts about their ability to collaborate with each other, in the wake of the July 1 trade that sent Bengie Molina to Texas. This marked the first time this season that the NL's reigning two-time Cy Young Award winner and the organization's most promising position-player prospect since Matt Williams worked together.
Lincecum dismissed the skeptics.
"As a pitcher, you have to come in ready to pitch to whoever," he said. "You can't let that determine whether you do badly or not. Obviously I loved pitching to Bengie, having done it so many times. But whether I'm pitching to Whitey [Eli Whiteside], Steve Holm or Posey doesn't really matter to me. I just want to get the job done."
Lincecum accomplished that against the Mets in a variety of ways. He threw only three 1-2-3 innings, yet only three runners reached scoring position in a contest that required just two hours and 11 minutes to complete.
"I would have guessed there would have been more [perfect innings], the way he was working," first baseman Travis Ishikawa said. "Even when he had guys on base, he'd get that big out. There was a great rhythm to the game. It was a lot of fun."
The Mets' joy was somewhat muted, though they admired Lincecum's performance.
"He's not pitching the same way he was pitching before. Now he's throwing cutters," said Beltran, the center fielder who went 1-for-4 in his first game back since recovering from offseason right knee surgery. "He didn't have that before. He threw me a couple cutters inside and I wasn't able to recognize the pitch well. He's one of the best out there."
Mets starter R.A. Dickey, who surrendered one run in seven innings, knew that Lincecum would force him to be stingy.
"You don't pitch any harder than you would any other day, but mentally you know there's a lot less room for mistakes," he said.
Lincecum's challenges were minimal. David Wright's first-inning bid for a two-run homer died in Rowand's glove two steps in front of the center-field wall. With runners on the corners and one out in the fifth, Lincecum escaped as Dickey bunted Josh Thole to second base and retired Angel Pagan on a fly to right. Following Thole's single, Lincecum retired 14 of the Mets' final 16 batters.
But Lincecum endured other kinds of close calls. Thole's single grazed Lincecum's back as he ducked to avoid the ball. In the eighth, Lincecum grounded a leadoff single before making a somewhat awkward slide into second base on Rowand's subsequent infield hit. The limber Lincecum escaped injury, however.
Manager Bruce Bochy wasn't as lucky as Lincecum. Alex Cora lined a sixth-inning foul into the Giants' dugout, where the ball struck Bochy on the right side of his jaw. Bochy sported a small cut and some swelling afterward but insisted that he felt fine.
"I took one for the team," a grinning Bochy said. "It was worth it."