SAN FRANCISCO - The Freak really showed up for San Francisco on his biggest stage yet.
Tim Lincecum pitched a two-hitter and struck out 14 in a dominating postseason debut, and the Giants scored their only run after a questionable umpiring call to beat the Atlanta Braves, 1-0, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series Thursday night.
“As far shutouts go, I think that was up there with my better ones,” said Lincecum, who pitched on seven days’ rest. “I was pretty anxious to get out there a couple days ago. You just have to deal with those extra days.”
The two-time NL Cy Young winner out of the University of Washington pitched a gem one day after Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay threw only the second no-hitter in postseason history in his first playoff game. Lincecum outdueled playoff veteran Derek Lowe and caught a break, too.
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Cody Ross singled in the only run Lincecum needed in the fourth after Buster Posey was called safe by umpire Paul Emmel on a steal of second.
“I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have instant replay right now,” Posey said. “It was a beautiful slide, wasn’t it?”
It was the first career steal for Posey, even though he appeared to be tagged out by Brooks Conrad on the play – retiring Braves manager Bobby Cox, the all-time leader in ejections, did not argue.
“I haven’t seen it,” Cox said. “Some of the guys came down after that inning and said he was out by 6, 8 inches. From the dugout you can’t see anything.”
Lincecum struck out Derrek Lee for the third time to end the 119-pitch masterpiece in 2 hours, 26 minutes. He became just the 12th pitcher with 14 or more strikeouts in a postseason game.
“That’s one of the best efforts I’ve ever seen,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “What a great job that kid did. He’s tough.”
In a postseason already filled with plenty of stellar pitching, this was the first 1-0 game in the postseason since 2005, when the Chicago White Sox finished a World Series sweep over Houston.
Game 2 of this best-of-five series is tonight, with 13-game winner Matt Cain going for the Giants against Tommy Hanson.
Lincecum’s only other complete game this season came in a six-hit shutout of the New York Mets on July 15. He threw all his pitches effectively Thursday, from his off-speed stuff to his power fastball.
“It kind of progressed as it did. All the pitches were working,” Lincecum said. “It just felt like things were in place.”
Lincecum carried the momentum from a strong final month right into October. His strikeouts set a franchise record for a postseason game – his eighth time with 10 or more Ks this year and 27th of his career.
“He was lights out,” Cox said. “We had two runners at second base all night and that’s it.”
Lincecum, still hitting 91 mph on the radar gun in the ninth, became the first pitcher to record 12 strikeouts or more in the playoffs since Roger Clemens had 15 for the New York Yankees against Seattle in the 2000 AL championship series. He did it much to the delight of the orange towel-waving sellout crowd of 43,936 at AT&T Park, which drew the largest attendance for a postseason game in the ballpark’s 11-year history.
Making his playoff debut at age 26 and in his third full major league season, Lincecum looked every bit an ace. He issued only one walk.