"Any time you have a lead with Timmy on the mound, that's a tough one to lose," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
The setback sent the Giants reeling into Thursday's scheduled off-day feeling more vulnerable than they have in a while. They endured a third consecutive defeat for the first time since May 13-16, when they dropped four in a row. Lincecum's personal six-decision winning streak dissolved. The Giants lost for only the third time in 31 games they led after seven innings and for the fifth time in 32 games in which they scored first.
Defeat seemed unlikely for San Francisco after Lincecum threw only four pitches in a perfect seventh inning. The Giants scored in the bottom of the inning on Travis Ishikawa's leadoff homer, but were denied what would have been a key run when Matt Downs was thrown out at the plate as he raced from second base on Edgar Renteria's single.
A two-run lead isn't safe against the Angels, who began Wednesday with an American League-leading .282 batting average and 15 home runs in their previous five games. The Giants tried to counter with their living, breathing security blanket draping the mound. Yet Lincecum wasn't enough.
Los Angeles' eighth began with singles from pinch-hitters Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, who fell behind on the count 0-2 before grounding a low pitch up the middle past shortstop Edgar Renteria. Hunter scored on Chone Figgins' double -- a line drive off the glove of second baseman Downs, who dove for the ball but couldn't quite snare it. Erick Aybar's infield single to deep shortstop scored Guerrero with the tying run.
Figgins advanced to third on a passed ball and, after Maicer Izturis struck out, scored on Juan Rivera's groundout to third base. San Francisco's infield was playing in, yet third baseman Pablo Sandoval threw to first base even though Figgins was barely more than halfway home when he gloved Rivera's chopper.
Sandoval's gaffe was the primary conversation piece among those who broke the silence in the Giants' somber clubhouse.
Said catcher Bengie Molina, "I talked to him and told him, 'Hey, the game's 3-3. You have to go home. It doesn't matter if he's safe or not. You have to take a shot.'"
Bochy agreed. "In that situation, you have to go for [the out at home]," he said.
"I figured on that play, it's where you have to go," Lincecum said.
Sandoval watched a video replay of the sequence and observed that a play at the plate would have been close. But after hearing from Molina and bench coach Ron Wotus, who supervises infield play, a mournful Sandoval realized that he goofed.
"It was a mental error for me," he said. "In that situation I have to make sure I throw home."
Sandoval confirmed that he had a decent grip on the ball, quashing speculation that he struggled to remove it from his glove. This was his first game at third base since May 23, before a strained right (throwing) elbow forced him to move across the diamond. But Sandoval didn't use his unfamiliarity as an excuse.
"If you play that position, you have to make sure of all the little things," he said.
Asked if he was upset with himself, Sandoval replied, "Yeah."
Downs should have been reveling in his first two Major League hits. Instead, he second-guessed himself for not spearing Figgins' liner.
"It hit off the end of my glove," Downs said after his second game as a Giant. "If it hits my glove, I expect to catch the ball. If I catch the ball and double somebody off, it changes the game completely."
The sequence of unlucky events frustrated Lincecum (6-2), who seemed to bite off his words in his postgame interview.
"Obviously, I'm not in the greatest mood right now," he said after yielding eight hits, walking none and striking out nine in eight innings.
Though Lincecum threw no egregiously poor pitches that contributed to the Angels' rally -- "He threw so well, even in the eighth," Bochy said -- he shouldered some of the blame that Sandoval and Downs heaped upon themselves.
"A hit's a hit whether it's a line drive or not," Lincecum said. "I'm still ticked I gave up as many as I did. I don't feel I should have, but I can't do anything about it now."