SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum quietly filed his nails with an emery board after almost every inning in which he dominated the Braves in Game 1 of the Giants' NL Division Series vs. Atlanta on Thursday night. He took an at-bat in the eighth inning in which he had no intention of swinging the bat. There was no need to fret nor to attempt to score more runs. The Giants already had enough runs: just one. Lincecum had it all under control.
This says it all about how dominating was Lincecum: the Braves tried to hit his pitches 55 times. They missed completely on 31 of them. Never before in a game had Lincecum recorded more than 21 strikes on swings and misses.
In the second inning alone, the Braves swung nine times and missed with all nine tries. It was as if Lincecum was throwing baseballs that disappeared -- changeups and sliders that dropped out of sight in the first half of the game, and fastballs later that were long gone before the barrel of a Brave's bat had a chance to meet them.
The 1-0 victory for Lincecum and San Francisco was a decidedly old school game thrown in the year pitchers seized back ground they had ceded over the previous decade and more. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he sent Lincecum back out for the ninth with 105 pitches because his ace wasn't laboring a bit. There was almost no stress to his pitches or his innings.
It was the greatest postseason game pitched since . . uh, the day before, when Roy Halladay tossed a no-no. But Lincecum's gem had a glow all its own because he made one run stand up with no relief help. The 1-0 game is the master's degree of pitching. To do it with 14 punchouts and allowing just two hits is historically amazing.
The last pitcher to win a 1-0 postseason game with two hits allowed or less was Vida Blue of Oakland in the 1974 ALCS -- the only other time it's been done in the past 60 years. The others before then were Vic Raschi of the 1950 Yankees, Allie Reynolds of the 1949 Yankees, Bill James of the 1914 Braves and Mordecai Brown of the 1906 Cubs.
And that's it. Six 1-0 complete games with two hits or less in the postseason. How good was Lincecum? Freakish.
These great games by Cy Young winners never get old. So far, four of the six postseason games have been started by them. And let's just say they've all done Cy proud with some deadball-style pitching:
As resourceful as are the Braves, with their superb pitching and the kind of depth that has allowed them to withstand injuries, their defense is a leak at the bottom of their playoff boat that sinks them.
Brooks Conrad entered the Division Series as the only player in history to take a four-game error streak into the postseason -- and promptly extended it to five. Centerfielder Rick Ankiel bobbled a sure double, costing the Braves another base. Catcher Brian McCann made a poor throw on the controversial stolen base by Buster Posey in the fourth, and Conrad did a poor job getting to the bag in position and on time. Omar Infante so badly misplayed a grounder that sent home Posey with the only run that Braves manager Bobby Cox simply assumed it was an error.
Division Series Game 1 was nothing new for the Braves. Defense has been an issue for them down the stretch.
It's a shame that the Rays, a fun team to watch who became the third team ever to hunt down and pass the Yankees in a September pennant race, have suffered an epic, ugly meltdown against Texas. They are whining at umpires, chasing pitches out of the strike zone and suffering from a manager hitting a run of rotten luck at the dice table.
In the fourth inning of Game 2, Evan Longoria came up with Carl Crawford on first base in what was still a 2-0 game -- and promptly swung at an awful first pitch, a foot outside, and popped it up to center field. It was the at-bat that captured the difference between playing October as the surprise team, as they did in 2008, and as the favorite, as they were heading into this series.
The game blew up in the next inning. It began not with the check-swing call on Michael Young that could have been strike three (relax, Rays, it was borderline). No, it began when Maddon lifted James Shields, a shaky pick to start the game in the first place, for Chad Qualls with two on and one out. Chad Qualls? You're putting your season on the line in the hands of a guy with a 7.32 ERA?
Maddon should never have started Shields in Game 2 if he is going to hook him that quickly. And if he is going to hook him, he's announcing he needs to shut the game down at that very moment, which means he has to use one of his better, late inning relievers.
Qualls served up a three-run jack to Young. Was that the umpire's fault, too?
What more can I tell you about the Twins playing the Yankees in October? The Twins led another postseason game against them, blew the lead and lost. Gilligan's Island was less predictable. That's now 12 straight blown leads against New York in the postseason and eight straight losses.
As long as the Twins repeat themselves, I might as well do likewise: Their pitchers don't have the stuff to hold back the New York hitters. In two games, Minnesota has thrown 305 pitches and managed to get the Yankees to swing and miss at only 31 of them. Their regular-season swing-and-miss rate of 14 percent is down to 10 percent against the Yankees.
Minnesota went down when manager Ron Gardenhire left the game in the hands of Carl Pavano in the seventh inning of a tie game, even after a leadoff walk when the situation called for a left-hander. After that the Yankees went double, single, single to make it 4-2. Game over.