But the excellence of both right-handers served as a mere preliminary to the fateful ninth.
Giants reliever Keiichi Yabu (2-3) opened the Rockies' half of the inning by walking Atkins on a 3-2 pitch. Brad Hawpe's single to right field moved Atkins to third base before Chris Iannetta also walked on a full-count delivery, loading the bases.
That finished Yabu, who was replaced by left-hander Jack Taschner. Pinch-hitter Jeff Baker flied out to center field -- many booing onlookers believed Atkins should have tagged up and tried to score -- before ex-Giant Yorvit Torrealba lifted a 2-2 slider to left field. Fred Lewis made the catch and fired a one-hop throw home to Molina, who backhanded the peg and made a sweeping tag -- with an empty glove, as the ball sat mockingly in front of home plate while Atkins slid in. Molina was charged with an error on the play, robbing Torrealba of a sacrifice fly and an RBI but leaving the outcome intact.
Displaying emotional extremes, Taschner literally jumped for joy before clasping his hands to his head in dismay as he left the field.
"I was yelling right in his ear, 'You gotta call him out!' And he did," Taschner said, "he" being plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth. "I didn't see the ball until after he called him safe."
"From the angle we got from behind home plate on TV, we couldn't see that he dropped it," said Lincecum, who watched the telecast in the clubhouse. "A couple of guys were like, 'Yeah!' And a couple of guys were like, 'Oh, the ball's right there.'"
Bochy experienced no such emotional swing. As a former Major League catcher, he knew what to look for and realized instantly that the ball squirted out of Molina's glove.
"Bengie had to be quick," Bochy said. "The ball was to his right a little bit, he knew he had to get the tag there and he did all he could. It just popped out."
Although Bochy called it a "tough way to lose," he declined to fault Yabu for his lapse.
"He's been pitching as well as anybody down there [in the bullpen]," Bochy said.
And nobody dared speak ill of Molina, whose stature and constant effort have left him beyond reproach.
"Bengie's the heart and soul of this team," Taschner said. "Everybody knows how hard Bengie takes a loss. I can't imagine what this is doing to him."
As for the scoring decision, which many press-box observers questioned, a Giants media relations official planned to send a videotape of the final play to the Commissioner's Office Thursday, in the hope that Molina's error would be erased.
The conclusion obscured the excellence of the starters. Lincecum continued his bid for an All-Star berth by trimming his ERA to 1.99, although the Giants lost for the first time in nine starts he has made following a defeat. Lincecum also struck out nine, increasing his total to 92 in 90 2/3 innings. Although Lincecum permitted five Rockies to reach scoring position, he asserted himself by ending five different innings with strikeouts and another by inducing a double-play grounder.
"I was trying to throw to an area as opposed to a spot," said Lincecum, noting that the Rockies frequently chased his curveball in the dirt.
The Giants, who are 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position in this series, were 0-for-5 in such situations against Jimenez, who also blanked them for seven innings in his previous outing against them on May 21.
"You saw two good young arms out there. Two great ballgames," Bochy said. "I thought this would be a low-scoring game, but I didn't know it'd be 0-0 going into the ninth."
And he had no idea that it would end the way it did.