OAKLAND -- Friday represented a recovery of sorts for Tim Lincecum, who performed adequately against the Oakland A's after enduring three consecutive dismal starts.But victory, not merely recovery, is expected of Lincecum when he faces Oakland -- or any team, for that matter. So the Giants' 5-2 Interleague loss Friday night left Lincecum feeling ambivalent. He could take some solace in his improvement. But losing still stung him. "You have to go out there and battle, give your team a chance to win. Once again, I just failed to do so," Lincecum said, though the Giants trailed only 3-2 when he left the game after walking Coco Crisp to lead off the seventh inning. The reigning World Series champions finally sagged against their cross-bay rivals, whom they had beaten six consecutive times. Lincecum (5-6) lost his first career decision to the A's after compiling a 5-0 record and a 1.17 ERA against them. If that doesn't sound dominant enough, consider this: Lincecum yielded three runs in 4 1/3 innings vs. the A's in his seventh Major League start on June 8, 2007. He then won his next five encounters with Oakland, surrendering three runs and 29 hits while walking seven and striking out 44 in 42 innings. That's a 0.64 ERA. Three of those outings were complete games, including a three-hit shutout at AT&T Park on May 21. This performance was a letdown by comparison. Lincecum's five walks reflected the lack of command that typified his previous three starts, when he went 0-1 with a 9.39 ERA. But his fastball reached 95 mph and looked livelier than it had recently, helping him amass seven strikeouts. "I got back to being more aggressive, kind of letting things go, not worrying about what I did mechanically because I felt pretty good," Lincecum said.
Yet in the next breath, he added, "I felt like I was battling the whole time as opposed to kind of cruising, which was what I would like to do. I just have to be better."The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner was bested by right-hander Graham Godfrey, who limited the Giants to two runs (one earned) and six hits over seven innings in his second Major League start. The Giants went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position while squandering Andres Torres' leadoff double in the first inning and a first-and-third, one-out opportunity in the fourth.
"We don't have much margin for error," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, as if he had to issue a reminder concerning his club's perpetual offensive struggles.The fourth-inning threat fizzled as Pablo Sandoval tried to score from third base on a 1-0 pitch that eluded Kurt Suzuki. But the A's catcher quickly gathered the ball and flipped it to Godfrey, who deftly tagged out Sandoval. "There aren't too many guys who would have scored, the way Suzuki pounced on it," Bochy said. Josh Willingham's RBI double, which the Giants initially disputed but ultimately conceded, was the centerpiece of Oakland's two-run uprising in the third inning that broke a 1-1 tie. Hideki Matsui walked with one out before Willingham hit a chopper past third base. Umpire Laz Diaz ruled the ball fair, though television replays looked inconclusive from some angles. The ball did not appear to raise chalk dust as it skipped down the line. It didn't have to.
"[Diaz] said it went right over the bag," Bochy said. "It was just a bad break for us and Timmy."The ball also struck a security guard's folding chair leaning against the wall approaching the left-field corner. But according to the Oakland Coliseum's ground rules, it remained in play and was not a ground-rule double. That enabled Matsui to score. With Conor Jackson batting, Willingham broke for third base and proceeded home as catcher Chris Stewart, who later threw out two would-be basestealers, flung the ball into left field. Lincecum was fortunate to survive the first inning with just one run allowed. Crisp drilled a leadoff single and advanced to second base on Cliff Pennington's sacrifice before Matsui walked. Lincecum edged closer to escape as Willingham flied out, but Jackson singled to score Crisp. David DeJesus walked to load the bases before the Giants generated an inning-ending forceout on Suzuki's one-hop smash to shortstop Brandon Crawford. Cody Ross' sixth home run of the season christened the second inning and forged a temporary tie. But the A's had established themselves as the aggressors against Lincecum, the first pitcher to work at least eight innings in four or more starts against Oakland since Scott Erickson, who did so between Aug. 16, 1996, and July 21, 1998, according to STATS Inc. "You want to see if he's going to dig himself into a hole," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I know he didn't have a great outing the time before, but, boy, I just wanted to try to score first. I've been beat by him so many times before, but just for us we wanted to try to get a lead. Even when he's out of sorts or whatever you want to call it, he's still a terrific pitcher."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.