ST. LOUIS -- Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito? No -- for the Giants, it became Lincecum and Zito.
Believed to be weighing a choice for his Game 4 starter between those two, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy pulled a minor surprise following the 3-1 loss to the Cardinals in Wednesday's rain-delayed Game 3 loss.
Bochy formally named Lincecum as the Game 4 starter tasked with again squaring this National League Championship Series. Then he added that Zito would go in Game 5.
That leaves as the odd man out Madison Bumgarner, who after struggling in both of his postseason starts may not get to make another this October unless the Giants advance to the World Series.
Lincecum slinked out of the visitors' clubhouse as Bochy was telling media about his assignment, thus was not available to comment on a rotation renaissance for which he had longed.
But San Francisco second baseman Marco Scutaro called the choice of Lincecum "great," and his double-play partner anticipated a great start from him.
"We always expect a quality start out of Timmy," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "He's a good pitcher with great stuff, and I'm sure he'll show that again tomorrow."
Key stat: All three of Lincecum's outings this postseason have come in relief, going 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA over 8 1/3 innings.
Key stat: Wainwright made the shortest start of his career last time out, lasting only 2 1/3 innings of NLDS Game 5.
At Busch Stadium
2012: N/A Career: 5 GS, 3-1, 3.21 ERA
2012: 17 GS, 10-6, 3.73 ERA Career: 80 GS, 44-26, 2.70 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: N/A Career: 7 GS, 5-1, 2.89 ERA
2012: 2 GS, 1-1, 2.13 ERA Career: 6 GS, 2-4, 3.04 ERA
Loves to face: David Freese: 0-for-4 Hates to face: Carlos Beltran: 7-for-14, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBIs
Loves to face: Gregor Blanco: 1-for-6, 1 K Hates to face: Hunter Pence: 11-for-38, 3 2B, 1 HR
Why he'll win: After enduring the worst regular season of his career, Lincecum has seemingly returned to normal out of the bullpen this postseason.
Why he'll win: Wainwright was stellar in two starts against the Giants this year, allowing only three earned runs in 12 2/3 innings.
Pitcher beware: For all his struggles this season, Lincecum was especially inefficient on the road. In 16 road starts, he went 6-6 with a 6.43 ERA.
Pitcher beware: On five days' rest this season, Wainwright was 6-6 with a 4.41 ERA.
Bottom line: Under perhaps the greatest scrutiny he's faced in the big leagues, Lincecum will make his return to the Giants' starting rotation.
Bottom line: Wainwright was bailed out in his last start thanks to a brilliant comeback by the Cardinals' lineup, and now he has a chance to bounce back.
"It's time to give Madison a little break," Bochy said of the left-hander who tied for the team lead with 16 wins before getting rocked for 15 hits and 10 runs in the eight innings of his two postseason starts. "He's a young kid  who has been pitching a lot of innings, and we feel at this point that we're better off giving him a little break and going with Z., who's done a nice job for us."
Thus, two weeks before Halloween, "Freak" time will arrive early for the Giants, as Lincecum makes his first start since Sept. 30.
Then the "any which way but lose" left-hander gets a shot at continuing his winning streak.
It will be up to those two to turn around a series the Giants now trail, two games to one. In fact, the NLCS' mere return to San Francisco now depends on those two.
Lincecum, the demoted starter, has excelled in the postseason relief role for which he had been cast, giving sharp efforts in three appearances out of the bullpen.
With Matt Cain pitching into the seventh inning and into the 3 1/2-hour rain delay, Lincecum's long-relief efforts were not required Wednesday, freeing him to make his first start in 2 1/2 weeks.
This will be Lincecum's first start of the year against the Cardinals, against whom he has excelled during his career. His 5-1 record against St. Louis includes three wins in four decisions in Busch Stadium.
Having Lincecum and Zito start back-to-back will be ironic in that the former had been dropped from the postseason rotation in favor of the latter, who had won his last seven regular-season decisions.
Zito struggled in his only playoff start, allowing four hits and four walks in 2 2/3 innings against Cincinnati in Game 4 of the NL Division Series.
In that same game, an 8-3 Giants win, Lincecum went 4 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and a run while fanning six without a walk. In three postseason relief outings, the most recent in Game 1 of the NLCS on Sunday, Lincecum has allowed three hits and a run in 8 1/3 innings.
"They pretty much knew what the plan was [even before Wednesday's game], but I held off naming them because ... the rain delay [could have made us use] Timmy if we go extra innings and we get low on pitching," Bochy said.
NLDS Game 4 was the team's 12th consecutive win in games started by Zito. But that was the fourth time Zito had failed to survive through the fifth inning. But when Zito starts, the Giants have kept finding ways to win at the finish.
Lincecum went 10-15 this season, tying for the NL lead in losses. Surprisingly, his 29 losses over the last two seasons are tied for the second most in the Majors; only Ubaldo Jimenez has lost more, 30.
"He got hit a little bit this year," said Crawford. "But he's come up huge for us so far this postseason, and we need another good outing out of him tomorrow."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.