Lincecum remained impassive until he finally flung his valuable right arm around Molina's neck.Lincecum has dominated the Padres this season, posting a 3-0 record with a 0.62 ERA in six starts. Still, said Molina, "it's not easy to throw a shutout, no matter where or who you're facing. Every time you can do that, it's amazing. That's why I was so happy for him." Hundreds of Giants fans, who turned PETCO Park into AT&T Park South with their cheering, shared the joy. They rose and yelled for Lincecum after he retired the first two Padres in the ninth inning, and dozens of them ringed the roof of the Giants dugout to express adoration for their 24-year-old hero as he left the diamond. The joy was nearly deferred. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego's best hitter who struck out in his first three at-bats -- making him 3-for-23 (.130) with 11 strikeouts lifetime against Lincecum -- prolonged the ninth by singling on a 2-2 pitch. Lincecum's pitch count stood at 131, one short of his career high. Left-hander Jack Taschner and right-hander Billy Sadler had warmed up in the bullpen, ready to replace Lincecum. "I looked into the dugout to see what was going on. I maybe glanced at the bullpen to see who was warming up," Lincecum admitted. Kevin Kouzmanoff then singled sharply on the next pitch. Yet the figure that emerged from the dugout wasn't Bochy, but pitching coach Dave Righetti, who simply wanted to make sure Lincecum felt fine. The answer came as Lincecum fanned Edgar Gonzalez after working the count full. "He put me in a tough spot," Bochy said, aware of worries about Lincecum's health and concern that he's being overworked, as his National League-high pitch count of 3,365 might reflect. Bochy pointed out that Lincecum still was throwing smoothly in the ninth inning. His career-high 133rd pitch was a 95 mph fastball, according to the ballpark velocity readings. Moreover, Bochy sensed Lincecum's desire to finish the game. "I know how bad the kid wants it," Bochy said. Said Molina, "Realistically, I think he was getting tired. But when he had to step up and make pitches, he did." The scrutiny upon Lincecum will increase. He has amassed his three highest pitch counts of the season in his last four starts, including 127 pitches last Monday against Arizona and 132 pitches Aug. 27 against Colorado. Unlike his last start, when he entered the ninth inning with a shutout after a scheduled off-day gave him extra rest, Lincecum will receive his usual four-day break before facing Arizona next Thursday. Lincecum dismissed the fuss over the care and feeding of his arm, noting that he threw close to 160 pitches in a game while competing for the University of Washington. But Bochy vowed that he and his staff will watch Lincecum carefully in the coming days -- not only to determine how long the ace will pitch in his final two scheduled starts, but also to gauge whether it's worth using the Sept. 22 off-day to give him an extra start in the season finale against Los Angeles. The discussion surrounding the National League Cy Young Award also will intensify. Arizona's Brandon Webb won his 20th game Friday by blanking Cincinnati for eight innings, but Lincecum lowered his ERA to a league-best 2.43 and hiked his strikeout total to a Major League-high 237 with his eighth double-digit performance of the year. "That's the last thing on my mind," Lincecum said of the Cy Young, repeating a now-familiar sentiment. He preferred to point out that the Giants' eighth victory in 10 games vaulted them past Colorado into third place in the NL West for the first time since the All-Star break.
"That's a big step for us," Lincecum said.Saturday's first step was taken by Molina, whose two-run, first-inning homer off San Diego's Chris Young (5-6) gave Lincecum and the Giants a quick edge. Molina acknowledged that, while circling the bases, he reveled in the notion of Lincecum preserving this advantage. "Give him a little cushion," Molina said. "Actually, it's a big cushion, the way he's been pitching lately."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.