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Giants fall five back in quiet loss

Giants fall five back in quiet loss

SAN FRANCISCO -- The sight of Tim Lincecum pitching to Buster Posey, a scenario that many Giants fans probably reserved in their imaginations for a World Series, became reality Friday night.

It wasn't the World Series. It was barely even the pennant race, given the Giants' continuing slide in the National League Wild Card standings. Still, it was Lincecum and Posey, symbols and -- the Giants hope -- staples of a brighter future.

Given Bengie Molina's limited availability due to a painful left hand and the Giants' ebbing postseason chances, manager Bruce Bochy indicated that Posey would be the Giants' primary catcher for the rest of the season.

"We know it's a long shot where we are with nine games to go," Bochy said before the Giants' 3-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs. "And with Bengie banged up, it's time to give Buster some starts and playing time."

Nothing dramatic happened for Posey or the Giants. Posey, widely considered the organization's most promising position player since the likes of Will Clark and Matt Williams were minted in the 1980s, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Carlos Zambrano. Posey wasn't alone, since Zambrano reached his dominant best by recording a two-hitter in his fourth career shutout.

Not even Lincecum, who allowed two runs and struck out seven in a respectable seven-inning effort, could prevent the Giants from falling farther behind Colorado in the Wild Card race. San Francisco is tied for third with Florida, five games behind the first-place Rockies and 1 1/2 behind second-place Atlanta.

The Giants finally seem to have reached the point of the season where the future means more than the present. So it was enough that the 22-year-old Posey played a full game, saw some pitches (albeit only nine) and began to experience working with the team's ace and other pitchers.

"It's great," Posey said of his late-season trial. "I'm still excited to be here. To have the opportunity to finish and catch a decent amount the rest of the year, I'm going to try to take that and learn as much as I can."

Friday, Posey wisely took his cues from Lincecum, the reigning Cy Young Award winner.

"I felt like were on the same page pretty much the whole game," Posey said. "That's what I talked to him about before the game: 'You lead the way and I'll try to get on the same page with you.'"

Lincecum (14-7), who has thrown almost exclusively to Molina since reaching the Majors in May 2007, felt mostly comfortable with Posey.

"It was good," Lincecum said of their collaboration. "I obviously felt a little different there from Bengie. It's more of getting a feel for each other out there. That takes time. But considering, I felt like we were doing pretty well."

The Giants didn't perform as well when they had to face Zambrano (9-6), whose previous complete game and shutout was his no-hitter against Houston in Milwaukee on Sept. 14, 2008. In fact, Zambrano had a similar feeling this time.

"I think it's the same stuff I had when I threw my no-hitter," he said. "Thank God everything went good today and I was able to command the strike zone."

The Giants were suitably impressed.

"We faced a great pitcher who had great stuff," Bochy said. "I don't know who could have beaten him tonight. He was throwing 97 [mph] with a breaking ball and a split-finger, and his ball was moving."

Juan Uribe's second-inning single to left field and Lincecum's sixth-inning grounder up the middle, both leadoff hits, represented Zambrano's lone lapses -- along with the fourth-inning leadoff walk he issued to Randy Winn.

"To me, he threw a lot of hard sinkers and mixed in a couple of those split-finger fastballs," said left fielder John Bowker, who drove in the Giants' pair of runs Thursday but went 0-for-3 against Zambrano. "I didn't see any of the cutters or the curveball, but I know he was mixing those in to other guys."

Zambrano struck out eight, a healthy but not excessive total. It didn't matter, since he was facing the free-swinging Giants.

"Their lineup sets up well for Z's stuff," Cubs catcher Koyie Hill said. "They've got some guys who like to swing the bats over there and want to put the ball in play. He got some good ground-ball outs. It was a good night."

It was a good night for Lincecum, compared to his previous outing at Los Angeles last Sunday, when he yielded five runs and lasted two batters into the fifth inning. Lincecum hiked his NL-leading strikeout total to 254 and surrendered just two hits until the Cubs scored in the sixth and seventh innings. His efficiency, combined with Zambrano's, accounted for the game's one-hour, 56-minute duration, the Giants' shortest game of the season.

Having amassed 31 starts and 218 1/3 innings, Lincecum revived his changeup but appeared to lack his best fastball.

"It's a matter of grinding," Lincecum said, suggesting that little comes easily at this juncture. "I feel a little tired just because it's a lot of work."

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

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