By Claire Reclosado-Baclay
With San Francisco Giants Game 4 starter Barry Zito failing to consistently find the strike zone, it was inevitable. Tim Lincecum was going to have to come into the game and keep the Cincinnati Reds from eliminating San Francisco. The player who was noticeably excluded from the starting rotation would have to play hero.
Finally, the Giants that many expected to see in postseason showed up in the National League Division Series. In the first two games, the sub-par pitching and offense quieted fans in AT&T Park. Game 3 showed the Giants coming back to life through the men on the mound and in Game 4 the G-men were back.
They aren’t just back, they tied the series two games apiece and are ready to win the NLDS by stealing another game from the Reds. A big reason why the Giants have lasted this long when many thought they would be swept was Lincecum’s performance in relief.
Keeping Lincecum out of the starting rotation for this series made waves. The Freak struggled during the regular season, but was it enough to send him to the bullpen? Giants manager Bruce Bochy thought it was and Lincecum was the “in case of emergency” arm if one of the starters couldn’t get it done.
But Zito over Lincecum? Bochy felt Zito has “been on top of his game” and that he “earned his spot” in the rotation. Understandably, seeing that the Giants have won all of the last 11 games that Zito has started.
Problem today was, after 2.2 innings where he gave up 2 runs on hits on 76 pitches, he was done.
“My timing was off in that first inning and unfortunately I was unable to get in that groove where I was pumping strikes,” Zito said. “Just missing off the plate pretty much the whole time instead of just pounding the zone, so that was the difference for me.”
With the starter out, it was Lincecum time for the second time this series.
Entering the game in the bottom of the fourth innings with two outs, the two-time Cy Young award winner allowed only one run in his 4.1 innings pitched, earning the win.
“Timmy was crisp today,” Zito added. “It was great seeing him in action having his slider and change and all that just do what it normally does, which is breaking down out of the zone. Coming in, getting the strikeout of Ludwick—that was the difference in the game right there. I think we just fed off the momentum after that.”
It was exactly what they needed. The offense began click early, but seeing their former ace dominate as he has done so many times in the past, it felt right. Suddenly, the Giants looked like the team in control and came away with the 8-3 win.
The Lincecum decision—strategic move or luck?
Controversial as it was, having Lincecum available put San Francisco at an advantage. Whether it was luck or strategy, it can be argued either way. Though his regular season performance was not a typically strong one, Lincecum still had it in him. That cannot be denied. Having that card in his back pocket, Bochy always had a back up plan. Whether it would have worked or not was chancy, but in the end it worked. Most importantly, it saved them from ending their season.
Having to change roles from starter to relief pitcher was different, but it worked for Lincecum. It seemed to bring him back to previous form. Admittedly, he mentioned that it was easier. There was less thinking and preparation; it was more getting “until they tell me, ‘you’re done.’”
Now that he has shown that he is back, does Bochy have Lincecum return to the starting rotation if they win Game 5?
“I think you have to [consider putting Lincecum back in the rotation]. He stepped up and did a terrific job. He had a great look about him, good command and pretty nice long man to have in this game, which we needed,” Bochy said. “He’s been throwing a lot here. He came in and relieved three days ago, and to do what he did was impressive. So I think, yeah, we get to that point, sure, we’ll talk about it.”
Before the decision is made, the Giants do need to put the Reds away in Game 5. Matt Cain gets another attempt to get a win after his Game 1 loss, but if he can’t get it done will we see The Freak come out?
“If they need me, yeah.”
Claire Reclosado-Baclay is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco Giants. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.