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CHC@SF: Lincecum works out of a jam in the sixth

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants hitters sank to unprecedented depths Monday night, joined in their descent by an unusual companion: Tim Lincecum.

San Francisco's offense was more lifeless than ever, mustering a season-low two hits. Departing from the Cy Young Award-winning form that he had sustained lately, Lincecum surrendered a career-worst three home runs.

This mixture proved toxic for the Giants, whose World Series title defense appeared increasingly futile after a 7-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

Many fans streamed from AT&T Park before the seventh-inning stretch, accenting the hopelessness that permeated the bayside ballyard. Asked if his club had reached its lowest point of the season, manager Bruce Bochy had a ready answer.

"I'd say, sure," Bochy replied. "We're at home. We know these are all important games. We know how critical they are, and we're running out of time."

At the current rate, the Giants soon will fade into irrelevance. While losing 20 of their last 29 games, they've plummeted from four games ahead of Arizona in the National League West to five games behind the D-backs.

Die-hards, whether they occupy the Giants clubhouse or seats at AT&T Park, might be tempted to comfort themselves by noting that the Giants faced a somewhat similar deficit at the same juncture last year. Then, they trailed San Diego by three games with 27 to play.

But Lincecum assessed the Giants' plight bluntly.

"At this time last year, we were in a similar spot but we were gaining ground, not going backward," he said. "Right now it's obviously frustrating for everybody. It's one of those situations where it's hard to keep your head up when things aren't really going our way. I guess they call it the dog days of August. Hopefully ... we can pick ourselves up in September."

San Francisco, the Major Leagues' lowest-scoring team, has totaled two runs or fewer in 23 of its last 37 games. This time, the Giants allowed themselves to be blanked by Randy Wells (6-4), who had never thrown as much as a complete game during his professional career. That included 84 Minor League starts and 76 previous Major League starts.

"It's hard to figure what's going on," said Bochy, who has tried or contemplated every possible solution to the Giants' hitting woes. "Every day we come out here, we think we're going to come out of it. It didn't happen today. I know that can be discouraging but we have to stay positive. That's the only way I know. Keep coming out here working. We've tried different things, lineups, yelling, a meeting, but it's a tough rut, there's no getting around it."

The Giants' offensive summary for their third shutout defeat in 11 games was brief. Andres Torres walked in the first inning and doubled in the third on a ball that Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd nearly caught with a diving attempt. Had Byrd snared the ball, Wells would have launched a legitimate no-hit bid. San Francisco's only other baserunners were Aubrey Huff, who reached on a fourth-inning throwing error, and Mike Fontenot, who lashed a pinch-hit single in the eighth.

Asked to explain the offense's latest pratfall, right fielder Carlos Beltran said, "There's no way to explain it. We didn't get on base, and when we did, we couldn't put anything together. So it is what it is."

Continuing to prove that they've lost their ability to impose their will upon opponents, as champions do, they dropped their 12th consecutive series opener. San Francisco has averaged 1.67 runs in these games, compared to 3.53 in other contests. The 4.25 ERA recorded by Giants pitchers in this dirty dozen isn't so hot, either, particularly when compared with their 3.03 ERA otherwise.

"We have to come here and fight. I think we're doing that," Beltran insisted. "Right now, nothing's really going our way. No one wants us to win more than ourselves. We're coming the ballpark every single day working hard and trying to make things happen and unfortunately nothing's happened."

Lincecum (12-11) usually rises above such lapses. While the Giants have floundered, he has sustained his Cy Young Award-winning form, posting a 6-3 mark with a 1.17 ERA in his previous nine starts. His record, in this span and overall, would be more impressive were it not for the 10 games in which he has received zero runs from his offense.

Against the Cubs, however, Lincecum looked shockingly vulnerable after yielding just one hit in four innings. Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto hit leadoff homers in the fifth and seventh innings, respectively. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera's fielding error on Starlin Castro's potential double-play grounder set up Blake DeWitt's three-run homer off Lincecum later in the seventh. Carlos Pena added a home run off reliever Steve Edlefsen in that inning.

Having recently pitched from the stretch even without runners on base, Lincecum reverted to the windup. From the stretch, he explained, "You're not getting the same kind of body momentum built up toward home plate." On this evening, Lincecum's motion didn't matter.

"My purpose is to go out there and pitch and give my team a chance to win, whether it's giving up one run or two runs or zero runs," he said, speaking barely above a whisper. "That's my job and I didn't do that tonight. I made three poorly executed pitches when it counted and they hit them out of the park."

Lincecum threw only 46 pitches during the first four innings, but that total soared to 108, reflecting his sudden struggles.

"We tried to make him work, tried to make him throw a lot of pitches," DeWitt said. "Runs are hard to come by against a guy like that and we were able to score a couple tonight."

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