Total Pageviews

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Giants 'free the hostages' with offensive barrage, Lincecum's brilliance

Mike Krukow said it after Brandon Belt got the first of his two hits Wednesday night, though it could have applied to the entire Giants' roster:

"That'll free the hostages right there," said Krukow, the quickest baseball wit in the West.

The Giants' 13-hit parade in Wednesday's 8-4 win was one big jailbreak for a team that had played most of its first week as if it had been kidnaped, bound and gagged. And Tim Lincecum's dominating 13-strikeout two-hit stopper performance over seven innings was the undercover rescue mission that set them free.

Lincecum peaked at 95 miles and hour, though he mostly stayed in the 92-to-93 MPH range, tapering down to 90 MPH toward the end. But it was his artistic blend of curves, split fingers, changeups and sliders that had Padre hitters befuddled all night, reprising memories of his brilliant October. It was the kind of night where fielders had to keep from losing their concentration because Lincecum wouldn't share much of the action.

"You get into a rhythm -- the rhythm of watching," said play-by-play man Duane Kuiper of the mindset of infielders playing behind Lincecum.

Watching Lincecum deceiving Padres hitters was like watching a hypnotist putting a whole theater audience to sleep. Though the 13 strikeouts suggests power, Lincecum is not the power pitcher that he was when he arrived in San Francisco four years ago on Willie Mays' birthday. He certainly uses his fastball to great effect, but it's more as a deterrent to hitters who might try to cheat and sit on one of his off-speed pitches (as they were doing during his month of horrors last August).

He's every bit the thinking man's pitcher that Hall of Famer Greg Maddux was, but with a power arm. Try to guess along with the hitter which arrow he'll pull out of his quiver, and you'll get an idea of how tough it is to face Timothy Leroy.

But it was also a night of exorcising ghosts from the lineup. Buster Posey finally found his stroke, or rather, the two swings that had brought so much glory last year: the power job that produced a two-run HR in the first inning, and his slashing inside-out piece of work that sent a shot into right field for another two runs in the sixth inning.

Though they entered the sixth inning leading 4-1, the four-run rally in the sixth was a breakthrough and revelation for a team that needed both.

Belt had stretched his hitless streak to 13 at bats when he struck out in the second inning ("he's probably gripping it a little bit -- young players do that," Kuiper said). But he'd broken through with his hostage-freeing single in the fourth on a two ball-two strike count, taking advantage of a Tim Stauffer front-door sinker that faded too far back to the heart of the plate.

Leading off the sixth, Belt again had two strikes on him and fouled off two straight two-strike changeups from submariner reliever Pat Neshek before stroking his second hit of the day.

A guy can get a reputation for grinding out two-strike hits like that.

After a four-pitch walk to Miguel Tejada and a Lincecum sacrifice bunt (beautifully laid down the third base line), Torres struck out against lefty Corey Luebke, failing for the second time in two days to drive in a run from third with less than two outs (was anyone thinking Aaron Rowand at this point against the lefty?). To be fair, Torres had a good overall day for a leadoff hitter: he walked twice and doubled in five plate appearances.

The Padres' decision to intentionally walk Sanchez, tho a bit unconventional (not too many No. 2 hitters are walked in front of No. 3 hitters), appeared smart. On a 2-and-2 count, Luebke tied up Huff with a slider away, inducing a weak ground ball that by all rights should have been a rally killer.

Except that Huff's grounder was more like a squibber heading ever so tantalizingly to that no-man's patch between the mound and third base. It was the Karmic answer to those half-dozen squibbers and duck snorts that the Dodgers had parlayed into rallies through the first four games of the year, and maybe even to Huff's embarrassing encounters with dodgy fly balls in right field.

Huff's third hit and third RBI would ultimately prove to be the decisive run, thanks to a late rally by the Padres against a shaky bullpen in the 9th. But, they weren't finished. Posey collected his third hit, that opposite field scorcher, and Pablo Sandoval got his third hit, a liner to right field, making it three straight two-out RBI hits and an 8-1 lead.

A rusty Brian Wilson in a shaky ninth inning put some doubt into the affair before Ramon Ramirez nailed down the final out with his fifth career save. The 8-4 win was a perfect segue into Friday's home opener and ring ceremony, where the Giants can bask in the glow of San Francisco love and plot out their next Great Escape.

No comments:

Post a Comment