NLDS Game 1: Lincecum gives Giants 1-0 win
Atlanta’s return to the postseason following a four-year absence hit a speed bump in the person of Giants ace Tim Lincecum.
San Francisco’s diminutive flame-thrower sliced and diced the Braves lineup to the tune of 14 strikeouts while tossing a two-hit complete game shut-out in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday.
Pitching dominated the night. Lincecum’s mastery was met blow-for-blow by Braves starter Derek Lowe in the early going, before a blown call and a misplayed ball gave the Giants the only run they would need to grab the series opening victory.
Scoreless in the bottom of the fourth, Cody Ross gave the Giants a 1-0 lead with a single that plated catcher Buster Posey. A controversial stolen base call on the back end of what appeared to be a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play allowed the Giants to continue their quest to supply some run support for Lincecum (1-0).
Posey had opened the inning with a single and was in motion when a strikeout was recorded at the expense of Pat Burrell. Second base umpire Paul Emmel called Posey safe, though replays showed Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad tagged Posey prior to his foot reaching the bag.
Following a strikeout of Juan Uribe, Atlanta opted to walk Pablo Sandoval intentionally and go after the right-hand hitting Ross. That move backfired when Ross lined a run-scoring single under the outstretched glove of third baseman Omar Infante.
Lowe (0-1) lasted 5 1/3 innings before being lifted in favor of lefty Jonny Venters in the sixth. The veteran right-hander surrendered a run on four hits, walked four and struck out six in taking the loss.
Though Infante struck for a game-opening double, it would not prove to be a harbinger of things to come. Instead, Lincecum harnessed the adrenaline and struck out Brian McCann and Derrek Lee to close the inning and begin his night of dominance.
Only a fourth inning walk to Jayson Heyward allowed the Braves to put a runner aboard between the first and seventh innings, when Brian McCann laced a one-out double in the seventh inning.
Those 14 strikeouts for Lincecum established a new single-game postseason record for a Giants pitcher, with 12 of them of the swinging variety. Infante was the only Braves hitter who was not punched out at least once by the Giants starter, who was making his postseason debut.
Lincecum’s performance was the story of the night, but five Atlanta pitchers combined to limit the San Fransisco offense to just five hits. Four Braves relievers held the Giants to just one hit over the final 2 2/3 innings.
The replays and the photos are worth a thousand words, but the Braves have no choice but to put a frustrating series opening loss behind them and focus on winning Game 2. In order to do that, Atlanta will look for a strong start from right-hander Tommy Hanson (10-11, 3.33) as he locks horns with Giants righty Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14).
Lincecum’s bigtime start helps to somewhat mask the fact that the Giants offense had its share of struggles in Game 1 as well. The Braves seemingly could not find the answers to Lincecum, who routinely got hitters to chase two-strike pitches well out of the zone. Atlanta was aggressive offensively, which they will need to continue on Friday against Cain. The difference and/or adjustments will likely come in the form of being more selective at the plate when behind in the count.
The blown call on Posey’s fourth inning steal of second base only furthers the public outcry for some kind of replay to be instituted. Of course, that won’t help the Braves or any of the other teams that may have felt slighted by a call on Thursday. It is a somewhat unfortunate trend to see popping up with regularity, especially given the fact that postseason games are under a higher degree of scrutiny. The human error defense ain’t what it used to be.
Hanson will make the first postseason start of his career, and he will be hoping to get more run support than he received throughout the year. Atlanta averaged just 3.0 RPG in Hanson’s final 18 starts of the regular season, and he won just three times after July 1.
Cain found himself in a similar situation in the first half. Despite a solid 3.34 ERA over his first 18 starts, Cain’s record sat at 6-8 and it appeared he may be in for another season in which his record was not indicative of the way he was pitching. Cain turned it on with a 2.91 ERA and a 7-3 record over his final 15 starts, walking just just 19 men in 102 innings over that stretch.
San Diego homered three times and battered Cain for six earned runs in his last start of the regular season. If Hanson can shed any ill-effects caused from fouling a ball off his eye in batting practice on Thursday and continue his excellent work from the final three starting assignments of the year (1 ER in 18.2 IP) then the Braves could have a good chance of heading back to Atlanta with the series tied at a game apiece.
The Atlanta offense will have to find a way to break out and provide those runs. That was something was increasingly hard to do in September/October as the team averaged just 3.5 RPG in over 30 games to close the season.
Prediction: Braves over Giants, 4-2