Lincecum dazzles to cut Wild Card deficit

Lincecum dazzles to cut Wild Card deficit

SAN FRANCISCO -- If the Giants add to their history of stirring September finishes, Tim Lincecum will have his signature on this year's entry.

Lincecum's effort Monday night reflected the Giants' resolve to intensify the National League Wild Card race. In a dramatic return to the starting rotation, Lincecum struck out 11 in seven innings to pace San Francisco's 9-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies and preserve the October dreams of the Giants and their fans for at least another day.

The Giants trimmed Colorado's lead in the Wild Card standings to 3 1/2 games. Sheer arithmetic continues to favor the Rockies, who have 17 games remaining. Even if they finished 8-9 -- an unlikely prospect for the team that owns the Major Leagues' best record since June 4 (62-31) -- the Giants would have to finish 12-6 to tie them.

But don't scoff. The Giants have met such challenges before. They trailed Los Angeles by four games with seven to play in 1962 before forcing a three-game playoff for the pennant that they won. In 1998, San Francisco sat five games behind Wild Card leader Chicago yet charged into another tiebreaker game, which the Cubs captured.

After a stretch in which they lost five of six games, the Giants have won their last two by a combined score of 16-3. It's too early to tell whether they're beginning a surge, but they can hope.

"The way we were going in that skid, it didn't look like we were going to come out of it," Lincecum said. "Now here we are scoring big in [Sunday's] game and scoring big in this one. So it's never-say-too-late, especially right now with how many games we've got left."

Especially with Lincecum (14-5) back at full strength after a 10-day layoff.

"I had all this energy pent-up," he said.

The NL's reigning Cy Young Award winner missed his scheduled start last Tuesday against San Diego with lower back spasms and lacked his usual command at the outset, walking one batter in each of the first three innings. But Lincecum maintained his aptitude for strikeouts for the duration of his 116-pitch outing, striking out at least one batter in each inning he worked. That helped neutralize the nagging Rockies, who stranded a runner in scoring position in five separate innings against Lincecum.

"I felt pretty close to the way I have all year," said Lincecum, who reported no ill effects from his ailment. "It took awhile to get my feet under me. But after my first few throws, I felt better on the mound."

As if for emphasis, Lincecum, who leads the Major Leagues with 244 strikeouts, ended four of the final five innings he pitched with third strikes. Colorado scored its lone run when he threw a seventh-inning wild pitch after Carlos Gonzalez tripled with two outs.

Asked how the Rockies, who have scored six runs during a three-game losing streak, can stimulate their offense, Colorado third baseman Ian Stewart said, "Not have Lincecum throw."

The Giants backed Lincecum with three second-inning runs off Colorado starter Jason Hammel (8-8), who lasted six innings. They loaded the bases with nobody out on an assortment of singles: Bengie Molina's bloop to right-center field, Juan Uribe's line drive to right and Travis Ishikawa's dribbler between the pitcher's mound and third base. Aaron Rowand followed with the fourth consecutive single, a sharp grounder into left field that scored Molina and Uribe. Lincecum tapped a sacrifice bunt before Eugenio Velez's sacrifice fly delivered Ishikawa.

"Any time you can jump on top early with Timmy on the mound, that's huge," Rowand said. "Because you know what he's going to do."

Molina, batting fifth and occupying a spot other than cleanup for the first time since Sept. 26, 2007, hit his 18th homer of the season in the third inning. That continued his march toward his first three-run game since Aug. 18, 2005, which he recorded while playing for Anaheim.

"Hopefully tomorrow I'm not hitting ninth," Molina joked.

Velez contributed a bases-loaded triple to the Giants' five-run eighth that made the score lopsided. Some might believe that such a result would subdue an opponent for more than just one day. But, said Molina, "Not many teams get rattled by a first-game win like that. They come back and fight hard."

The Giants seem ready for the counterpunch.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.