SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum gave the paid crowd of 42,366 at AT&T Park a bonus on Sunday afternoon.Removed from the game with two Phillies on base and two outs in the eighth inning, Lincecum tipped his cap to the cheering throng before ducking into the dugout. It was old-school cool, a brief left-handed tug at the cap's bill. Just as Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry used to do ... and as Matt Cain did way back on, well, Saturday. Except Lincecum almost never makes this gesture. Veteran Lincecumologists believed that he hadn't done so since his final start of the 2009 season. Obviously, this game -- San Francisco's 3-1 victory over Philadelphia -- was no ordinary affair to Lincecum. Lincecum sensed that the audience's ardor was especially intense, given the Giants' eight losses in their previous nine games. Another defeat would have sealed Philadelphia's first four-game sweep of the Giants on the road since Aug. 6-8, 1943. That's when the Giants called New York and the Polo Grounds home. "The crowd was really in an uproar when I came out," Lincecum said. "I just kind of wanted to acknowledge that. I've never really been one to do that. Considering the funk we've been in, I thought they were really wanting a win or a lead at that point." The fans got both. Javier Lopez stranded the baserunners by retiring Raul Ibanez before Brian Wilson worked a scoreless ninth for his 34th save, enabling the National League West-leading Giants to remain a half-game ahead of the D-backs. The Giants needed this victory to preserve their collective sanity. Accustomed to winning at the corner of Third and King streets, they lost five of the first six games on this homestand. San Francisco had scored fewer than three runs in 12 of its previous 16 games -- a stretch of offensive futility that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the franchise hadn't sustained since 1909. Not surprisingly, the Giants' 64 runs since the All-Star break entering the game were the fewest in the Majors. The Giants didn't entirely skirt adversity. Right fielder Carlos Beltran left the game after seven innings with a sore right wrist, which nagged him when he swung and missed to complete a sixth-inning strikeout. X-rays of Beltran's wrist showed no structural damage, and his playing status was listed as day to day. Moreover, though the Giants amassed 13 hits, they didn't score a commensurate number of runs. Jeff Keppinger tied a career-high with four hits, but before Orlando Cabrera's fifth-inning sacrifice fly broke a 1-1 tie, they had one run and 10 hits off Phillies starter Roy Oswalt (4-7). "Oh, yeah," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said when asked if he noticed. He added dryly, "I hate using up all our runs the way we did." Aubrey Huff's pop-fly single in the fourth inning ended the Giants' series-long 0-for-22 skid with runners in scoring position. But their biggest hit might have been catcher Chris Stewart's bases-loaded single on an 0-2 pitch that drove in their first run later in the fourth.
"If we don't score there, that could be demoralizing," Bochy said.Then again, Lincecum was pitching. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has compiled a 1.67 ERA over his past 10 games, belying his 10-9 record. "We knew Timmy was going to go out and do what he does," Stewart said. "We didn't want him to go down with another 1-0 loss. It was nice to get that first run across. We knew from then on that he wasn't going to give up any more runs." Demonstrating a jazz pianist's improvisational skill, Lincecum worked from the stretch position from the second inning onward. After walking Jimmy Rollins on four pitches to open the game, Lincecum felt that the front (left) side of his body was more aligned toward home plate while pitching from the stretch. Implementing this adjustment, which he has made a handful of times during games, was a matter of common sense. "I wanted to simplify things and not have to worry about mechanics," he said. After yielding Chase Utley's two-out RBI single in the third inning, Lincecum allowed only two more Phillies to reach scoring position. "The first part of the game, his back was a little tight," Stewart said. "He wasn't really throwing the way he wanted to. He was a little erratic. But after the third inning, I think it loosened up and he was able to throw his pitches where he wanted to. His fastball was established both in and out, up and down. He went to the changeup quite a bit, and it was pretty filthy today." Lincecum recorded three of his five strikeouts against Phillies slugger and cleanup hitter Ryan Howard. But the true measurement of Lincecum's effectiveness was Hunter Pence's 0-for-4 performance, though that included third baseman Pablo Sandoval's slick backhanded stop which prevented a possible double to begin the sixth inning. Pence went 7-for-13 with two homers in the series' first three games and registered a hit in each of his previous nine games in a Philadelphia uniform. "He's one of the best pitchers in the game for a reason," Pence said of Lincecum, who's 5-0 with a 0.90 ERA in seven career starts against Oswalt. "He's a guy who locates his fastball, has a great changeup and a slider to go with it." Lincecum was briefly stunned in the eighth inning when Utley flailed at a 2-1 pitch and fouled it off. Utley lost his grip on his bat, which struck Lincecum's right knee. Lincecum hit the ground in pain, but recovered quickly and faced two more hitters after Utley singled. Lincecum equated the discomfort to that of a charley horse. The Giants had no reason for concern. "When we have our ace going," Wilson said, "the chances for [the Phillies] to sweep us go down significantly."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.