On a night the San Diego Padres pounded out 8 runs in St. Louis, the Giants rolled over and played dead against another Milwaukee pitcher, this time their ace Yovani Gallardo. In a surprising move, Bruce Bochy yanked an effective Tim Lincecum after only five innings and 72 pitches with the team down 2-0. There was actually some logic to it--the Giants had two men on with one out, and hadn't scored a run in 13 innings. Sometimes you have to jump on those scoring chances when they present themselves, especially when you are struggling. Tim was genuinely shocked by the move, as the camera showed him looking pretty riled up. Pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz hung in against Gallardo and worked a walk, no mean feat with C.B. Bucknor's random and capricious strike zone. Mike Fontenot's grounder scored a run, so the gamble somewhat paid off. The Giants didn't get a big inning, but they did halve the deficit. I'll give Ol' Boch credit for having confidence in his bullpen, and they delivered the goods with shutout baseball the rest of the way. The camera later showed Big Head walking over to Tim and talking directly to him, which also impressed me. Whatever failings Bonehead may have as a manager, communication with his players is not one of them. Everyone on the club seems to know exactly what is expected of him. You don't hear the carping and whining that you did under Alou, who seemed to talk only to his coaches. (Winning is the best tonic, of course, and winning clubhouses are generally happy clubhouses, but Bochy should get some credit for his handling of 25 egos and personalities.) It's also true that Tim is going to pitch some even more important games in the next few weeks, and that "saving" a few innings of The Franchise's arm is a defensible tactic.
In the end, it wasn't about Tim Lincecum, but the ghastly state of the Giants offense. Tim had some trouble in the 4th inning, but with a little luck and maybe a better play by Pablo Sandoval he could have managed another zero. With the bases loaded and one out, a grounder to third by the speedy Alcides Escobar was not going to be a 5-2-3 DP, but I thought perhaps the Panda (who was one stride from the base) had time to get the force and then throw home for the tag play. It was Prince Fielder running (er, lumbering), and he looked vulnerable coming down the line. Alas, they got only the one out, and no. 8 hitter catcher Jonathan Lucroy then fought off what looked like a good 1-0 pitch and blooped a 2-RBI single to right. Little things like that loom large in games where your team doesn't score. Tim, like MadBum last night, got Cained. The Giants have played 16 games in September and have scored 48 runs. The fantastic pitching by both the starters and the relievers have made it a winning month (10-6), but that kind of baseball is just not sustainable, and losing at home to a weak team is particularly galling. Here are the runs scored for September: 2, 2, 5, 3, 2, 6, 1, 7, 1, 0, 6, 0, 2, 10, 0, 1. In 13 of the 16 games, the Giants have managed only 25 runs. Andres, Andres, come back soon!
Tim gets tagged with his 10th loss, the first time he's had double-digit L's in his short but marvelous career. His final line was 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R (both earned), 2 BB, 3 K, facing 23 batters (Game Score 48). Despite the depressing result, the Giants are still in a virtual three-way dead heat with two teams they get to see again. Look at the run differences: SD, +90; SF +87; CO +82. It shouldn't be a surprise the three clubs are separated by only one game. The races in the AL are over. New York and Tampa Bay will both make the playoffs, either as East winner or Wild Card. Minnesota and Texas are locks with 10 game leads. Cincinnati is a virtual certainty, leading by 8 over fading St. Louis. Philadelphia (88 wins) is the best team in the NL, but pesky Atlanta is only three back and two up in the Wild Card race. The West is the place to be for excitement. There's a chance two clubs will make it, or that the division winner will ace out two other good teams. Let your fingernails grow, lads, as you'll be chewing on them the rest of the way. Let's hope we find our missing bats soon!
p.s. JCP usually handles the Tim Beat here at RMC, but he had another commitment tonight. He'll be back next week.