Cam Inman: Tim Lincecum gets a laugh from Philly’s fans

PHILADELPHIA — Phillies fans provided the comic relief Tim
Lincecum needed for Saturday’s tense start to the National League
Championship Series.

Whistles from the sellout crowd of 45,929 serenaded the
Giants’ long-haired ace midway
through the
Giants’ 4-3 victory, and Lincecum
absolutely relished the atmosphere.

“I was kind of laughing about it,” Lincecum said. “Obviously I
can’t not hear it. Whistles are going on when I’m swinging, when
I’m walking back to the dugout. I tried turning it into a funny
situation, a humorous situation.”

The crowd whistled like construction workers ogling a pretty
girl. But underneath those 20-inch strands of black hair is a brain
that allowed Lincecum to stay focused and not blow up on the
biggest stage of his career.

He prevailed in arguably the marquee pitching matchup in recent
postseason memory. He outdueled Roy Halladay, who merely pitched a
no-hitter in the Phillies’ last series opener.

“The situation was probably the most heightened (of his
career),” Lincecum said. “It’s the NLCS, Game 1, against Halladay.
That puts it right on center stage.

“To make it easier for myself, I approach it like any other
game. I wanted to be even keel, be in check with my emotions.”

Leave it to Philadelphia’s fickle fans to lighten the mood with
their silly whistles, which rang out in unison during Lincecum’s
fifth-inning at-bat and continued throughout the next couple
innings.

“I was thinking I must have a really nice butt, because I heard
a lot of (whistles),” Lincecum said with a laugh. “I’ve never been
whistled at that much. The Philly fans must love something about
me.”

They don’t love him anymore. The Phillies are two-time reigning
National League champions, and losing the NLCS opener at Citizens
Bank Park is a stunning blow to their three-peat cause. They had
won their past seven playoff-series openers. Now the
Giants have won seven straight Game
1s.

Lincecum worked seven innings and allowed six hits, including
two home runs that accounted for all the Phillies’ runs. This
certainly was not as easy as Lincecum’s phenomenal playoff debut
against the Atlanta Braves, when he struck out 14 in a two-hit
shutout to open that division series.

“Unlike last outing when I was kind of on cruise mode, today
felt like a work day,” Lincecum said. “Considering I got behind a
lot of guys, I had to make a lot of 2-0 pitches to a lot of good
hitters.”

He staked 2-0 counts to eight of the first 14 batters he faced,
a recipe for disaster. One of those 2-0 serves, to Phils’ catcher
Carlos Ruiz, resulted in a leadoff home run in the bottom of the
third that tied the score at 1 and negated the first of two solo
home runs by Cody Ross.

But Lincecum rose to the occasion, as he’s done so often in his
four-year career.

And he watched with glee from the on-deck circle as Ross batted
in front of him in the eighth spot. Ross’ second home run came in
the fifth, and a two-run rally in the sixth gave Lincecum a 4-1
lead to protect.

“I think he had that swagger before the game started that you
knew he’d be tough,” catcher Buster Posey said.

You knew it wouldn’t be easy. When Jayson Werth took Lincecum
deep for a two-run home run in the sixth, the
Giants’ lead shrank to 4-3. Lincecum
ended that rally by sandwiching strikeouts around a walk to Raul
Ibanez.

But Lincecum’s night was not done. Manager Bruce Bochy allowed
him to bat with one out in the seventh, Lincecum grounded out on
the first pitch and fans’ whistles were cut short.

Lincecum retired all three batters he faced in the seventh and
exited after 113 pitches. He didn’t throw many sliders, estimating
that pitch produced only one of his eight strikeouts. Nor did he
complain about a blister on his middle finger: “No issue. We’re
good.”

Aesthetically, these weren’t the best seven innings Lincecum
ever pitched. But they meant the most.

“It’s a gutty effort,” Bochy said. “He got in some jams and made
pitches when he had to. I mean, that’s a tough lineup.”

That was a tough crowd, too.

“You’re fighting more than just the Philly team. It turns into
the whole Philly atmosphere,” Lincecum said. “You know you’re going
to get that coming in here. It just makes the environment that much
more fun, that much more special, and a lot more pressure.”

It was a special night indeed. Cue the sound of a happy
Giants fan whistling down the
street.

Contact Cam Inman at cinman@bayareanewsgroup.com .