With Webb watching in the visitors' dugout, Lincecum (16-3) strengthened his case by pitching a career-high 8 1/3 innings. The slender right-hander departed with a 6-0 lead before ultimately being charged with two runs (one earned), but his ERA still shrank from 2.60 to 2.54. Lincecum also struck out nine, hiking his league-best total to 225. For good measure, he raised the Giants' total to 1,090, breaking the franchise mark of 1,089 set in 1998.
While Lincecum's 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA in his last five outings, Webb (19-6) is 0-3 with a 12.51 ERA in his last three starts. Lincecum's ERA and strikeout total outpace Webb's respective figures (3.41, 166), although the latter has three complete games to Lincecum's none. But it's worth noting that Barry Zito completed exactly one game for Oakland in 2002 when he finished 23-5 and edged Boston's Pedro Martinez to capture the AL's Cy Young hardware.
Assuming both teams maintain their regular rotations, Webb has four starts left to Lincecum's three, thus giving the D-backs right-hander more chances to boost his league-best win total. But conventional wisdom dictates that if Lincecum remains close to Webb in victories and superior to the D-backs ace in other significant statistical categories, he could become San Francisco's first Cy Young winner since Mike McCormick in 1967.
"I don't know if there's a better pitcher in the game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's how good he's been all year."
Lincecum, who always sustains intense focus upon his task, insisted that he wasn't distracted by rivals or trophies.
"I wasn't thinking about Brandon Webb. I wasn't thinking about the Cy Young," Lincecum said. "I was thinking about it's a division game. It's a chance for us to dig ourselves out of this hole we're in."
Other Giants eagerly pushed Lincecum's Cy Young candidacy.
"Heck yeah, I hope we can pull that one off," said catcher Bengie Molina, whose three-run homer off Arizona starter Yusmeiro Petit (3-5) was the biggest hit in the Giants' five-run third inning.
"It's up to the voters," said center fielder Aaron Rowand, referring to the pair of Baseball Writers' Association of America members from each NL city who will cast ballots. "But there's no reason he shouldn't be in the running for it. He's the picture of consistency."
Lincecum was so steady through eight innings, issuing one walk and allowing only two runners to reach scoring position while throwing 109 pitches, that he appeared destined for his first career complete game. The AT&T Park crowd also was primed for it, cheering Lincecum as he stood on deck in the eighth inning and as he jogged to the mound in the ninth.
But after retiring Chris Young on a popup to open the ninth, Lincecum yielded a single to Adam Dunn, who struck out in each of his three previous at-bats, and a double to Conor Jackson. Walking Mark Reynolds on a 3-2 pitch hiked Lincecum's pitch count to 127, five shy of the career high he reached Aug. 27 against Colorado, and prompted Bochy to rely on Alex Hinshaw and Sergio Romo for the final two outs.
Bochy had no intention of risking Lincecum's valuable arm.
"There's no doubt in my mind that I have to get him in that situation," said Bochy, who absorbed vigorous booing from the pro-Lincecum audience.
Lincecum had no complaints.
"I think I was given a fair number of pitches to get out of it," he said. "They just put good swings on balls, took good pitches and were putting up quality at-bats. I wasn't my sharpest, obviously. When I came out, I was a little disappointed in myself. I would have liked to finish that game."
One Giant who might not finish the season is infielder Emmanuel Burriss, who strained his left oblique while batting in the fifth inning. Burriss will undergo an MRI examination Tuesday morning, but the results aren't expected to be promising.
"I don't know how bad it is, but it definitely is a strain," Burriss said. "Better now than at the beginning of next season."