It’s hard to label a win over a sub-.500 team in June as a pivotal game.
But if this season turns out with a happy ending coming September, the Giants may look back at June 22 as a turning point.
And the weird thing about it is that it looked nothing like a happy ending when this game started.
Tim Lincecum took the mound Friday and seemed headed to his most disastrous start of the ugliest season of his big-league career.
Lincecum had not recorded an out and the A’s had scored three runs and had the bases loaded, looking for more. Shane Loux was feverishly warming up in the bullpen.
Then something flipped in the Freak. We think he just got ticked off.
Lincecum would strike out the next three batters to end the inning.
Lincecum would finish his night by retiring 18 of the final 20 batters he faced, allowing only two-out walks in the second and sixth innings. He gave up three runs on three hits and four walks in six innings for his first quality start since May 30 and the third this season.
Almost just as unlikely was the way it ended for the Giants.
Lincecum left trailing 3-1 and it looked like he was going to fall to 2-9 on the season.
But the Giants rallied for four runs in the top of the ninth — Brandon Belt’s two-run double the big hit — to end a six-game losing streak in Oakland.
The Giants improved to 2-29 in games in which they trailed after eight innings.
Before striking out those three batters to end the first inning, Lincecum’s outing was a mixture of bad pitches from Lincecum, bad luck and bad defense.
Coco Crisp led off the game with a ground ball that Ryan Theriot was able to get to, but not able to throw out the speedy Crisp. Infield single.
Crisp stole second. Then Lincecum completely lost track of Crisp as he stole third — without a throw and standing up.
Jemile Weeks then singled to center just past Lincecum’s glove in the hardest hit ball of the inning.
At this point, you were thinking that Lincecum should just shake off that first run and reset himself.
He gave up a soft liner to right by Josh Reddick. But Nate Schierholtz, in right field because Angel Pagan was out with an abdominal strain (if Pagan plays, Blanco is in right), got a bad break on the ball and allowed it to fall for a single.
Lincecum then made it worse by walking Yoenis Cespedes to load the bases.
Looking for an inning-ending double play, Lincecum instead got Seth Smith to ground the ball to first baseman Brandon Belt.
Belt had two options here: A) throw home immediately to try to force out Weeks at home; B) take the ball to the bag, get the out there and allow the run to score.
Belt chose option C. He started to run toward the bag, but never touched it before throwing home, keeping the force intact. However, catcher Hector Sanchez wasn’t aware that the force was still in play, so he was not standing on the plate when he received Belt’s throw, allowing Weeks to slide under him to score.
So instead of being down 2-0 with one out and runners on second and third, Lincecum was down 2-0 with the bases loaded and no one out.
He made matters worse by walking Brandon Inge to make it 3-0.
Then, suddenly, just as things looked as if everything was going to completely unravel, the Lincecum of old showed up.
With his three first-inning strikeouts, Lincecum threw 43 pitches in the first inning. He would throw 62 over the next five innings to finish with 105.
Hopefully, HOPEFULLY, this is the start Lincecum has been looking for to turn the corner. It was against the A’s, the worst-hitting team in the majors. But at this point, we’ll take any positive step we can get.
Lincecum’s next start will come Wednesday afternoon at home against the Dodgers and Chad Billingsley, a pitcher who has been battling struggles of his own.
After winning a game that looked like the worst pitching matchup of the series for the Giants, San Francisco will try to win Game 2 with its best pitching matchup when Madison Bumgarner takes on Tyson Ross at 4:05 p.m. Saturday in a game televised by FOX.