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NYM@SF: Romo notches first save of 2011 as Giants win

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy has had much to ponder lately. When he's not preoccupied with managing the Giants, he must concentrate on helping finalize the National League All-Star team that he's steering. Despite this overload, Bochy possessed enough clarity and perspective to summarize the significance of the Giants' 3-1 triumph Saturday night over the New York Mets.

Combined with Arizona's loss at St. Louis, the Giants' third victory in four games assured them of entering the three-day All-Star break with the NL West lead. Though all games are considered equal in the minds of many baseball people, some actually have more impact than most. For the Giants, this was one of them.

"The last thing you want to do is limp into the break," Bochy said. "I thought this was an important game for us. You don't want to go into the last day trying to avoid a sweep. As you close out the break and guys head out for three days to rest up, it's nice to feel good about where you're at to open up the second half. It's not so much about wins and losses -- those are important -- it's how you play. And we played well tonight."

This wasn't an overwhelming win for the Giants. Few are. But, as Bochy indicated, they sparkled in every facet.

Tim Lincecum limited one of the NL's hottest-hitting teams to one run and four hits in six innings. Relievers Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo approached perfection. The offense was meager as usual. But Pablo Sandoval, who lengthened his hitting streak to 20 games, and Nate Schierholtz, who maintained his productivity with a first-inning RBI single, did just enough to generate the minimum daily requirement of runs.

Such efficiency isn't always exciting. But the Giants sent fans home with a thrill. With closer Brian Wilson receiving a rest, Lopez sailed through a six-pitch eighth inning and retired the first two batters in the ninth before walking Ruben Tejada. Up came Giants nemesis Scott Hairston to pinch-hit. Playing the righty-against-righty percentages, Bochy summoned Romo, who fanned Hairston on three sliders in a row.

"That was stupid," Lincecum said, using "stupid" as a synonym for "fabulous."

Hairston, who belted a tiebreaking home run off Wilson in Friday's ninth inning, bailed out on Romo's first slider, though it was called a strike. Romo obviously followed the gospel preached by Matt Cain, who said of Hairston, "If you don't get him out of his approach, he's tough."

This time, Romo was much tougher, even while lacking variety.

"Everyone knows what my best pitch is," said Romo. "And I'm going to go at it with my best stuff."

The result was Romo's first save since Aug. 25, 2009, against Arizona.

"When they say it takes a different animal to be a closer, they're right," Romo said. "The feeling you get out there is an incredible rush." Prompting laughter from reporters, he added, "The feeling afterward is borderline heart attack."

Earlier, Lincecum teased New York while displaying an odd brand of consistency. He retired the first two batters in every inning before allowing one Met to reach base. Then he'd record the third out. Lincecum departed from this pattern only in the first inning, when back-to-back, two-out doubles by Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy generated New York's lone run, and in the fifth, when Justin Turner doubled and Beltran walked with two outs. Lincecum dug into his bag of tricks and ended the threat by striking out Murphy on an 81-mph changeup.

"When you're facing those quality pitchers, those guys step it up when guys are in scoring position, and they're tough to score on," Mets manager Terry Collins said, praising Lincecum. "We were fortunate, really, to get one in the first."

Acknowledging that he labored, as his total of 114 pitches indicated, Lincecum felt satisfied with survival.

"Just getting through those innings was good enough for me," he said.

Receiving the decision enabled Lincecum to avoid the ignominy of heading for the All-Star Game with a losing record, thus sparing him nagging questions from hordes of reporters.

"Yeah, but they're still going to ask me why I'm a 7-7 All-Star," Lincecum said.

Chances exist that Sandoval could join the Giants' All-Star contingent, due to roster vacancies created by injuries. He strengthened his case with a first-inning double that fueled the Giants' two-run rally and a fielder's-choice grounder that drove in their final run in the seventh.

"Every player who plays in the big leagues wants to be in the All-Star Game," Sandoval said. "If I make it, I'm happy. If not, I'm happy, too."

Predictably, Sandoval brushed aside talk of his hitting streak, which is approaching Jack Clark's San Francisco-era record of 26 established in 1978.

"I'm not thinking too much [about it]," he said. "If I get a base hit -- 21, 22, I don't look for that. I'm just trying to do my job."

Most of the Giants appear to share that skill.

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