Lincecum dazzling in opening victory

Lincecum dazzling in opening victory

HOUSTON -- The season's only one game old, and already Tim Lincecum has overcome a significant challenge.

It was one he made for himself -- the kind that often motivates an athlete most.

Intent on dissolving the memory of his flat performance on Opening Day last year, Lincecum turned in a typical performance in Monday's 2010 inaugural game against the Houston Astros. That is, he was brilliant.

Lincecum led the Giants to their 5-2 victory by working seven shutout innings. Looking every bit like the two-time reigning National League Cy Young Award winner that he is, Lincecum surrendered four hits -- all singles -- and walked none while striking out seven.

The right-hander's 98-pitch outing contrasted sharply with his three-inning, three-run dud against Milwaukee last April 7, which matched the shortest start of his career. This time, he asserted himself during a perfect first inning as he retired leadoff batter Michael Bourn on a first-pitch grounder before striking out Kaz Matsui and Hunter Pence.

"I was kind of really excited for this game more than anything, just getting that chance to get out there. This is where it matters," Lincecum said. "You try to take it up a notch or do something to help the team win. Considering last year -- I had that in the back of my mind, just go more than three [innings]."

As much as Lincecum wanted this triumph, he didn't let his intensity consume him.

"It wasn't the uncontrollable kind of hyped-upness where you're out there and you don't really know what's going on," he said.

Rather, it was the Astros who struggled to cope with Lincecum's inexorable dominance.

"If he doesn't have control of all his pitches it wouldn't be so hard, but he has control of his curveball, slider, changeup and his fastball," Bourn said. "You can see tonight he was throwing his changeup 3-2, and when a pitcher is doing that, you know he has confidence in that pitch. He'll do it over and over."

Ah, yes, the changeup. Lincecum's legion of connoisseurs have grown accustomed to watching him flummox some poor hitter by flinging a darting, diving pitch for strike three. "Changeup," the experts declare. Well, maybe not all the time anymore.

"Some of those pitches they might have called changeups were sliders that I threw," Lincecum said. "They're right around the same speed."

In fact, Lincecum used the slider to escape his most serious jam, which arose in the sixth inning when Bourn and Matsui singled with one out. Houston's third and fourth hitters were due up, but Lincecum responded by coaxing Pence's groundout and Carlos Lee's foul popup -- on a 2-0 slider.

The Giants' key newcomers were suitably impressed.

"It was awesome," left fielder Mark DeRosa said. "He was making some pretty good hitters get caught off-balance."

"Just seeing some of the swings that some of the guys were taking -- it's like, man, that's gotta be doing some stuff. Guys just didn't look comfortable," said first baseman Aubrey Huff, who never had seen Lincecum pitch a regular-season game. "... Just watching him tonight, I really kind of get an idea what it's all about. He has an ability to step it up."

That ability largely explains Lincecum's 34-2 record when the Giants score at least three runs for him. They amassed that magic trio of runs in the second inning alone, seizing upon Houston ace Roy Oswalt's brief bout of ineffectiveness. Edgar Renteria added a seventh-inning RBI double and DeRosa sliced an eighth-inning, opposite-field homer to right.

"It was nice watching the bats do their thing," Lincecum said.

Those late runs proved essential when Houston scored twice in the ninth. But closer Brian Wilson sealed San Francisco's seventh victory in eight season openers against Houston by flinging seven pitches, all for strikes, to record the final two outs.

Overall, it was as solid an effort as the Giants could have expected.

"Everyone was excited for Opening Day," right fielder John Bowker said. "It was a fun game."

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