This was a night that demanded an ace-like performance from Tim Lincecum.
A victory would’ve given the Giants a series win against the first-place club in the NL West. And it would have set right all the worries about their shaky, two-time Cy Young Award winner. It would've been all wind and sails.
But Lincecum, despite much-improved stuff and velocity in the early innings, could not execute two-strike pitches and hold down an early lead. The Dodgers roared back for a four-run fourth inning, with pinch hitter Tony Gwynn Jr.’s bases-clearing triple sending the Giants to a 6-2 loss at Dodger Stadium Wednesday night.
The Giants lost two of three to their archrivals and slipped back under .500 while also falling to five back in the NL West. They also could stew over their failures on offense, including an extremely bad baserunning mistake by Nate Schierholtz that took a run off the scoreboard in the third inning.
Lincecum is 2-3 with a 5.89 ERA after seven starts – numbers that don’t even qualify as mediocre.
He has an 8.15 ERA in four road starts, too.
Starting pitching report
It started so well for Lincecum, which made his night that much harder to figure out.
The right-hander conquered his first-inning issues by taking the mound with tremendous stuff, hitting 93 mph with his fastball and throwing an 87 mph slider while striking out three batters.
It was a good omen, since Lincecum entered with an 18.00 ERA in the first inning and a 2.81 ERA after that. He appeared ready to carry the momentum along as he struck out three more while facing the minimum in the second and third innings.
The slider, especially, was a good sign. It had been closer to 85 mph in previous starts, which didn’t differentiate it much from his 83 mph changeup.
But Lincecum came apart in the fourth by making far too many two-strike mistakes. Andre Ethier led off by hitting a double on a 1-2 changeup that caught too much of the plate. Bobby Abreu singled and Juan Uribe followed by digging out a breaking pitch almost in the dirt. Giants third baseman Joaquin Arias made a terrific play near the line to keep the ball on the infield, but he slipped as he tried to get in position to throw and Uribe was safe with an RBI single.
Lincecum, still leading 2-1, painted an outside fastball to strike out James Loney and he issued a walk to No.8 hitter A.J. Ellis with first base open. Lincecum got ahead 0-2 on Gwynn, too. But another changeup failed to fade and Gwynn lashed it into the right field corner for a bases-clearing triple.
Lincecum ended up throwing 36 pitches in the fourth inning. He departed after five having allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks and matched his season high with eight strikeouts. He threw 74 of his 101 pitches for strikes, but he paid for his wildness in the zone.
The relievers couldn’t hold down the Dodgers. Travis Blackley allowed a run on two hits in the sixth inning, with pinch hitter Scott Van Slyke – Andy’s son – knocking an RBI single up the middle in his first big league plate appearance.
Clay Hensley gave up a run in his 1 2/3 innings.
Former Giant Jamey Wright relieved right-hander Chad Billingsley after four innings and retired all six hitters he faced to earn the victory.
At the plate
The Giants worked over Billingsley, collecting 11 baserunners in his four innings. But once again, they minimized chances.
They got their first run in the second inning when Lincecum beat out a two-out infield single. But Gregor Blanco struck out to strand two runners.
They were even more wasteful in the third inning, after Melky Cabrera tripled and Buster Posey singled him home. The Giants had runners at first and second when Joaquin Arias delivered a clutch, two-out hit up the middle. But Nate Schierholtz made a horrendous baserunning mistake, rounding second base too aggressively. Center fielder Matt Kemp alertly threw to second base, where Schierholtz was tagged out before Brandon Belt could cross the plate. Umpire Gary Cederstrom immediately waved off the run and Giants manager Bruce Bochy hung his head for a good 20 seconds in the dugout.
It was a “doghouse” kind of mistake: Not what you want to accomplish when you’re starting for the first time in eight games. Schierholtz ran into an out in the second inning, too.
The Giants had a chance to rally in the seventh after a single, a walk and a wild pitch put two runners in scoring position with one out. But Buster Posey struck out. The cleanup hitter has 11 strikeouts and just one walk in May (in 34 at-bats).
Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon made a back-to-the-infield catch on Aubrey Huff’s pop-up to end the eighth inning.
Arias made a nice play on Gordon’s grounder in the eighth, angling his tough throw to cut down a runner at the plate.
The Dodgers announced 33,993 paid. That’s a nice, round number. Almost as round as a beach ball.
The Giants take a day off before opening their next series Friday at Arizona’s Chase Field, where they were swept in three games to begin the season. The Giants face three different Diamondbacks pitchers this time. It’ll be rookie left-hander Patrick Corbin (1-1. 7.00) vs. Madison Bumgarner (5-1, 2.31) on Friday, followed by right-hander Trevor Cahill (2-3, 3,26) vs. Matt Cain (1-2, 2.38) on Saturday and left-hander Joe Saunders (2-2. 2.50) vs. Barry Zito (1-1, 2.21) on Sunday.