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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