Tim Lincecum strikes out 14 vs. Braves, but only because the game ended

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning of their MLB National League baseball game in San Francisco, California August 10, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The first batter Tim Lincecum faced on Thursday night lined a double into the left field gap and you could feel the panic set in from San Francisco.

Giant fans knew what kind of pitcher Lincecum was in August. He got behind hitters. He couldn’t locate his pitches. He hung his breaking stuff. He didn’t re-stock the toilet paper in the clubhouse when he finished a roll.

He was bad.

Thankfully, the September Tim Lincecum arrived about a millisecond after Omar Infante doubled in the first. The Giants’ ace went on to pitch nine innings of scoreless baseball, yielding just two hits and striking out 14, which set a Giants postseason record. Cody Ross’ single in the fourth inning was all the runs Lincecum needed, as San Fran took Game 1 of the NDLS, 1-0.

The back half of the Braves’ lineup is about as frightening as a box of kittens, but their one through four of Infante, Jason Heyward, Derrek Lee and Brian McCann is no joke. Lincecum wasn’t fazed, however, as he held the top of Atlanta’s lineup to just two hits while compiling seven strikeouts (including three of Lee, one of which ended the game).

Derek Lowe was awfully impressive himself, but he wound up being the hard-luck loser after giving up one run on four hits over 5.1 innings of work. Truth be told, he shouldn’t have even given up the one run.

Second base umpire Paul Emmel called Buster Posey (who had two hits in his postseason debut) safe on a steal attempt in the fourth inning, but replays showed that he was tagged out a split second before his foot hit the bag. Posey eventually went on to score on Ross’ single, which should have been gloved by Infante at third base. (It wasn’t an error because Infante never got his glove on the ball, but it’s a play Chipper Jones or even a slightly above average third baseman could have made.)

That said, I’m thoroughly convinced that had Lincecum pitched 62 innings tonight, he wouldn’t have given up a run. He was absolutely sensational in his postseason debut and even though it was a tight game throughout, it felt as though the Giants were playing with a 10-run lead. Also, give manager Bruce Bochy credit for recognizing how special Lincecum was and allowed him to finish the game. That couldn’t have been easy with his ace already over 100 pitches and Brian Wilson sitting in the bullpen.

What an outing by “The Freak.”

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2010 MLB Preview: NL East

In order to help get you ready for the MLB season, we’re doing division-by-division rankings with quick overviews on how each club could fair in 2010. Next to each team, you’ll also find a corresponding number written in parenthesis, which indicates where we believe that club falls in a league-wide power ranking. Be sure to check back throughout the next two weeks leading up to the season, as we will be updating our content daily. Enjoy.

All 2010 MLB Preview Content | AL East Preview | AL Central Preview | AL West Preview | NL East | NL Central | NL West

Next up is the NL East.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (2)
Much like the Yankees in the American League, it’s hard to find bad things to say about the Phillies. They’re the three-time defending NL East champions and considering they’re ready to bring back the same core of players that got them to the World Series the past two years, there’s no reason to doubt them. Oh, and they added Roy Halladay. Roy, I’m going to dominate your face for nine innings, Halladay. If Cole Hamels rebounds and J.A. Happ’s 2009 wasn’t a fluke, the Phillies won’t suffer a setback this season. In fact, the pitching doesn’t even have to be that great with the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez taking up the first six spots in the order. The problem, however, is that Hamels might not bounce back and Happ’s ’09 season may have been a fluke. There’s also that nagging Brad Lidge closer issue that could haunt this club as well. That said, odds are that the Fighting Phils will be right back at the top of the NL East again this season. They’re too good, too talented and too experienced to fold and they have a great chance to reclaim their title back from the Yankees.

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