ARLINGTON -- Even Tim Lincecum, arguably the game's top starting pitcher over the past three seasons, is not immune to World Series nerves.
His fastball pops. His changeup dives. His repertoire ranks among the best in the game. And yet Lincecum admitted to being a bit uneasy prior to his first career World Series start last week.
Then again, that was last week. This is this week. And this week, Lincecum is primed to start Monday's Game 5 of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, leading 3-1 with a chance to seal the Giants' first World Series title since 1954.
"The experience of being there is the big help," Lincecum said. "Going through the lineup again knowing that you're pitching in another World Series game just eases the tension."
Key stat: Averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in postseason
2010: 4 GS, 3-1, 2.51 ERA Career: 9 GS, 7-1, 1.96 ERA
2010: 5 G, 4 GS, 3-1, 2.79 ERA Career: 5 G, 4 GS, 3-1, 2.79 ERA
At RANGERS BALLPARK
2010: 8 GS, 3-2, 2.94 ERA
Career: 14 GS, 6-5, 5.07 ERA
2010: N/A Career: N/A
Against this opponent
2010: 1 GS, 0-1, 11.57 ERA
Career: 4 GS, 3-1, 2.83 ERA
2010: 1 GS, 1-0, 6.35 ERA Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 6.35 ERA
Loves to face: Edgar Renteria (4-for-19) Hates to face: Aubrey Huff (7-for-22, 2B, HR)
Loves to face: Jeff Francoeur (3-for-16)
Hates to face: Vladimir Guerrero (2-for-4)
Why he'll win: It's still the postseason, and he's still Cliff Lee.
Why he'll win: Unlike Lee, Lincecum rebounded in Game 1.
Pitcher beware: If Giants take same approach as Wednesday, watch out.
Pitcher beware: Wasn't "Freak"-like at home. Now he's on Texas' turf.
Bottom line: Still postseason ace
Bottom line: Thrives in big games
Considering how the first four games of this series unfolded, Game 5 will certainly add more of that tension. And Lincecum will have to handle it far better than he did in Game 1, when he didn't outpitch Rangers starter Cliff Lee so much as he outlasted him.
In that game, Lincecum held on long enough to throw 5 2/3 innings of four-run ball, striking out three batters and allowing eight hits. It was enough for his first career World Series victory, mostly because the Giants battered an uncharacteristically fallible Lee for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings.
But Lee almost certainly won't be that bad again. He'll probably be brilliant. And so the Giants need Lincecum to be better, as well.
Lincecum may have the benefit of a 3-1 series lead, but the Rangers are just one game, one big inning -- one at-bat, really -- from sending the Series back to San Francisco. And if the Rangers can do that, they would need just one more victory to force a winner-take-all Game 7.
Simply put, the Giants need to find a way to quiet the Rangers in Arlington -- to end things right here, right now.
"Really, that starts with the guy on the mound, how he pitches," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "You're in a seven-game series, so there's not a lot of time to create that momentum."
There is some reason to worry about Lincecum, whose 29 postseason innings have upped his season total to a career-high 241 1/3 innings at the age of 26. Back in August, Lincecum modified his between-starts routine, concentrating more on core and leg strength to tackle the grind of yet another 200-plus-innings workload. But he is still tired.
Most pitchers are come October.
The Rangers, meanwhile, possess one of the top offenses in the Major Leagues and will pounce upon any errors -- for proof, just look at what they did against Jonathan Sanchez in Game 3.
But Lincecum is a two-time defending Cy Young Award winner with one start remaining in another solid season. He's ready to use up every last drop of gasoline left in his power right arm.
"I just want to be more aggressive, of course," Lincecum said. "Quality of strikes as opposed to just throwing strikes."
There's just one other problem, as well: Even if Lincecum is indeed fantastic in his Game 5 start, even if he blanks the Rangers for seven or eight innings, there's always a chance that Lee might match him.
"He's been so great," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of his ace, explaining away Lee's rare bad start in Game 1.
Lincecum, too, has been great, even if he was also uncharacteristically hittable in Game 1. So Game 5, then -- not to mention the entire World Series itself -- may just come down to who is better.
"Timmy's a big-game pitcher," Giants first baseman Travis Ishikawa said. "He wouldn't be in this situation if he wasn't. We've got all the confidence in the world in him. They've got their stud over there going, too, so it's going to be a good game. There's nothing guaranteed. But we definitely feel confident with Timmy on the mound."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.