Lincecum struggles as Giants slip back

Lincecum struggles as Giants slip back

LOS ANGELES -- Tim Lincecum may have extinguished any chance he had of repeating as the National League's Cy Young Award winner with his performance Sunday.

The Giants' push for the postseason ebbed as well.

Needing Lincecum to be Lincecum -- dynamic, excellent, inspiring -- the Giants instead watched their ace allow five runs while lasting only two batters into the fifth inning. Since winning high-scoring games isn't the Giants' forte, they fell, 6-2, to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the NL West leaders who climbed a staggering 30 games above .500 (90-60).

The Giants (80-69) still aspire to join Los Angeles in the postseason, but their second loss in the series' three games left them 4 1/2 games behind Wild Card leader Colorado. The Giants have 13 games remaining; Colorado has 12. Do the math, and no matter what imaginary finish you punch in for the Rockies, you'll find that virtually every game is a must-win situation for San Francisco.

"Definitely today was a big game. You can tell by the look on my face I'm not really happy about my outing and the way I let the team down," Lincecum said with a steely expression. "It's hard to say you let the team down, but I just felt like I could have done a better job out there, put up a better fight, and hopefully it would have been a closer game. But that wasn't the case today."

Manager Bruce Bochy mustered a brave smile when asked if staying optimistic was a challenge.

"No. There's always hope," Bochy said. "If you don't have hope, you don't have anything. You have to stay optimistic. There's no other way to be."

Optimism typically runs rampant among the Giants and their fans when Lincecum pitches. He dominated the Dodgers for two innings, striking out three and holding them hitless.

Those would be the only strikeouts that Lincecum, the Major League leader in that category with 247, would accumulate. The afternoon spun out of control for him as he walked opposing pitcher Randy Wolf on four pitches with one out in the third inning. One out later, Lincecum yielded Andre Ethier's two-run homer on a 3-2 pitch.

Matt Kemp and James Loney opened the fourth inning with ground-ball singles through the right side that could have been dismissed as more well-placed than hard-hit. But after Casey Blake's sacrifice bunt, Ronnie Belliard smoked a two-run single into right field. Bochy removed Lincecum after the right-hander walked Rafael Furcal and Ethier to open the fifth inning.

Lincecum spun several effective breaking pitches past the Dodgers in the first two innings. "After that I just kind of lost it," he said.

Lincecum said that his back, which forced him to miss a start earlier this month when he endured spasms in his lower left side, didn't hamper him. He also insisted that he didn't wilt in the heat. Gametime temperature was 84 degrees, prompting Lincecum to wait in the dugout instead of the on-deck circle before his second at-bat.

"It feels different from San Francisco, but no different in what we have to deal with on the East Coast and down south," Lincecum said.

But Bochy said that the heat "might have been a factor" and added "it was obvious he hit a wall" in the fifth inning.

Said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, "From the first inning, we weren't overmatched. ... [Lincecum] had an off-day today and we took advantage of the opportunity. It's really big to beat a guy of Lincecum's stature."

His stature remains imposing, except perhaps within the context of the Cy Young vote. Lincecum's ERA rose to 2.47 after his shortest outing since Opening Day. St. Louis' twin aces, Adam Wainwright (18-8, 2.59 ERA entering Sunday) and Chris Carpenter (16-4, 2.34) possess more impressive conventional statistics, though Lincecum still has an edge in many sabermetric measures.

The Giants might have rescued Lincecum from defeat if Andres Torres could have batted in every inning. Receiving a rare start to strengthen the Giants' right-handed-batting complement against the left-handed Wolf, Torres recorded his first career two-homer game, including a leadoff homer.

That actually was a bad omen. The Giants are 1-3 when they receive a leadoff homer on the road.

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