ST. LOUIS -- It would have been a great story. Two-time National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, coming off a subpar season, finds himself pushed into the bullpen when the playoffs roll around. He doesn't complain, recaptures the magic, steps back into the rotation just when his team needs him most and pitches the Giants to an important win.
All but the last part came true.
Instead, Lincecum gave up four runs on six hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings and the Cardinals rolled to an easy 8-3 win in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night. He threw 91 pitches. In three relief appearances this postseason, he's given up just one run on three hits in 8 1/3 innings.
So instead of being tied at two games apiece with two of the final three games to be played in San Francisco, the Giants could be knocked out as early as Friday night at Busch Stadium.
"Right now I'm just upset at myself. Definitely. I don't want to go out there and put our bullpen in the position where we have to use them they way that we have been," Lincecum said. "That's the frustrating thing. Being down 2-0 in that first inning definitely puts your team in a hole and you're pretty much just scratching back after that. That first inning was really big."
Three batters in, before Lincecum recorded a single out, the Cardinals had a lead they never relinquished. Jon Jay led off with a single. Matt Carpenter, starting in place of the injured Carlos Beltran, walked on four pitches. Matt Holliday singled to center, scoring Jay and advancing Carpenter to third.
|NLCS 4||10/18/2012||@ Stl.||8-3 L||4 2/3|
|WS 1||10/27/2010||Tex.||11-7 W||5 2/3|
|NLCS 5||10/21/2010||Phi.||4-2 L||7|
|NLCS 1||10/16/2010||at Phi.||4-3 W||7|
|WS 5||11/1/2010||at Tex.||3-1 W||8|
|NLDS 1||10/7/2010||Atl.||1-0 W||9|
Allen Craig followed with a line drive to center that was caught; Carpenter scored easily on the sacrifice fly.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy analyzed: "Early he was cutting himself off a little bit. Had trouble getting the ball where he wanted it. He settled down [after that] and actually threw the ball fairly well. He just was having a tough time getting in sync there. He gave us all he had."
Pitching exclusively out of the stretch, Lincecum walked two batters in the second but retired six straight in the third and fourth before running into trouble again in the fifth.
He said he didn't make any mechanical adjustments.
"I just kind of went back to keeping my left side of the target. That's all I was thinking of. I was leaking a little bit here and there with pitches. But I felt fine. That's why I went to the stretch the whole time," Lincecum said. "There was no lack of confidence in any of my pitches or any lack of conviction. They just weren't hitting the spots that I needed them to.
"I thought I was going to carry us a little further in the game. And then I ran into some bumps in the fifth."
That's when, with one out, Carpenter doubled. Holliday singled to center. The relay throw beat Carpenter to the plate but skipped past catcher Hector Sanchez. That allowed the run to score and Holliday to advance to second on the play. With one out, he came home when Yadier Molina rolled a single up the middle, and that was all for Lincecum.
"I thought it was a break for us when [Carpenter] was trying to score and we got a good throw and it was still a close ballgame at 2-1," Bochy said. "Then he gave up a ground ball up the middle and it's 4-1, and that's a big hit for them, too."
Said Lincecum: "In that inning I just kind of missed spots, leaving pitches over the middle, getting behind on Carpenter that inning with the leadoff double. I just kind of put myself in a hole there. The play at the plate was set up great. I wouldn't say it was a bad throw. It's just a tough play to make when you've got a guy breathing down your throat as a catcher."
Said Carpenter: "We know he's coming off pitching well in the 'pen lately. But at the same time, we know there was a little bit of a doubt with his command lately. We wanted to make sure that we did a good job of making him throw strikes and getting our pitch to hit. I think we did a great job of that."
It could have been a great story. But it didn't work out that way and now the Giants have no more margin for error.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.