SAN FRANCISCO -- Whether the vanquished figures were Braves hitters or Giants greats, they fell like dominoes to Tim Lincecum's touch Thursday night.
The reality of the postseason proved to be far better than any fantasy the Giants or their fans might have harbored. Lincecum ended San Francisco's seven-year absence from meaningful October baseball in stirring fashion, setting a franchise postseason record with 14 strikeouts and firing a two-hitter as the Giants blanked the Atlanta Braves, 1-0, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Lincecum, who has pitched four regular-season shutouts, including a two-hitter, fell short of his career-high strikeout total by one. Asked if had ever pitched a better game, Lincecum replied, "I don't know. That's hard to judge what 'better' would be. If you come out on top, I think that's good. But a shutout, as far as shutouts go, I think that's up there with one of my better ones, if I had to rate it."
Buster Posey, who shares Lincecum's knack for the dynamic effort, backed his batterymate by scoring the game's lone run after collecting his first Major League stolen base -- a play that was later debated.
The decision, which unfolded before a packed house at AT&T Park, extended the Giants' winning streak in Division Series openers to four. Optimism must be curbed, since the Giants lost two of those previous three series.
Then again, optimism comes naturally for the Giants when Lincecum's on the mound.
"He makes us fans as well," said right-hander Sergio Romo, who was among the Giants relievers Lincecum idled.
The grandest giant
Most strikeouts in a postseason game in Giants history
Lincecum, the reigning two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, has defied belief with previous outings. But this 119-pitch gem, which the right-hander delivered as one of seven Giants making their postseason debut, proved remarkable in many facets.
Of the 75 strikes Lincecum threw, 33 were swinging -- an unusually high ratio. When he struck out the side in the second inning, all nine strikes he threw prompted swings, and 12 of his 14 strikeouts were swinging. He reached full counts on four different hitters and fanned each one. Except for Omar Infante, Lincecum struck out every Braves hitter at least once and notched at least one strikeout in each inning but the fourth, when he issued his lone walk.
After that free pass to Jason Heyward, Lincecum retired the next 10 hitters he faced and 18 of the final 19. Doubles by Infante to begin the game and Brian McCann with one out in the seventh were all that prevented Lincecum from matching Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, who no-hit Cincinnati in Wednesday's opener of that Division Series.
"This was his game and he finished it," Atlanta left fielder Matt Diaz said. "The number of strikeouts was impressive. But he was giving us pitches to hit virtually every at-bat. That's the thing with him and his delivery and his ability to mix pitches. He may give you a pitch to hit, but you're probably not going to hit it because you might not be looking for it or it's just funky."
Lincecum obliterated the franchise postseason standard of 10 strikeouts, shared by Jesse Barnes (Oct. 11, 1921, in relief against the Yankees), Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell (Oct. 3, 1933, against Washington), Hal Schumacher (Oct. 5, 1936, against the Yankees) and Jack Sanford (Oct. 10, 1962, against the Yankees). Lincecum agreed with an interrogator who asked if setting an all-time Giants mark was difficult to believe.
"Especially with the great arms that have come through this organization," he said.
Most strikeouts in postseason debut
Fresh off leading the NL in strikeouts for the third consecutive season, Lincecum equaled a Major League record for most strikeouts in a postseason debut. The last pitcher to accomplish this was Houston's Mike Scott in the 1986 NL Championship Series against the Mets.
Lincecum displayed his entire array of deliveries while dominating the Wild Card-entrant Braves. He recorded most of his early-inning strikeouts with sliders and changeups before relying primarily on his fastball to finish matters. His final pitch was a 92-mph heater that left Derrek Lee staring and the largest postseason crowd at AT&T Park (43,936) roaring.
"It just felt like things were in place," Lincecum said.
All the Giants needed was a run. They collected it after Posey singled to open the fourth and broke for second base as Pat Burrell struck out on a full-count pitch. Umpire Paul Emmel called Posey safe, though television replays suggested otherwise.
Asked if he was safe, Posey winced and said, "I guess it's a good thing we don't have instant replay."
After Juan Uribe struck out, the Braves elected to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval. Though first base was open, it was a curious move, given Sandoval's season-long struggles at the plate. Moreover, Derek Lowe struck him out to end the second inning. The free pass prolonged the inning for Cody Ross, who grounded a 2-0 pitch under third baseman Infante's glove and into left field for an RBI single. Infante appeared to have a play on the ball, but it somehow eluded him.
"We probably got a break," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "In a game like this, you take it."
With Lincecum at his best, it didn't take much.
Lincecum's 14K's shine bright
Tim Lincecum turned in a performance for the ages in Game 1, tossing a complete game while fanning 14, the fourth most by a pitcher in a postseason game and a franchise record.
WS Gm 1
NLDS Gm 1
ALCS Gm 4
NLCS Gm 5
ALCS Gm 3
WS Gm 1
NLDS Gm 1
NLCS Gm 1
ALCS Gm 2
NLCS Gm 3
ALCS Gm 3
WS Gm 3
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.