MLB: Giants get lift from ace, and bats for a change
By Andrew Baggarly
San Jose Mercury News
HOUSTON — Tim Lincecum went T-shirt shopping at the local mall Monday morning and picked out a beauty for Pablo Sandoval. It proclaimed, "I have the body of a god. Unfortunately, it's Buddha."
Sandoval loved it. To everyone's delight, he immediately put it on and modeled it in the clubhouse before the Giants' 5-2 opening-day victory over the Houston Astros.
No, the Giants will not impress you when they walk off the bus. Their ace pitcher is too skinny, their best hitter is too plump and their lineup lacks the everyday horses that most playoff teams possess.
But they are comfortable in their own skin, they took the field loose and they played a near flawless game. They hope to play many more.
Lincecum got an early start on a Cy Young three-peat, their modestly improved lineup got to Houston ace Roy Oswalt for a three-run second inning and a suspect defense made all the plays as the Giants won on opening day for the second consecutive year.
Everyone took a cue from Lincecum, who didn't show any of the jitters that undid him in last year's opener or his All-Star start in St. Louis.
"I felt a little more in control this time," said Lincecum, who held the Astros to four singles without a walk in seven shutout innings. "I was definitely excited for this game more than anything. This is where it matters.
"But it wasn't the uncontrollable hyped-upness, where you don't know what's going on."
Lincecum (1-0) mixed four pitches and was around the plate with all of them. When he got in a jam, he went to his lethal change-up, which accounted for most of his seven strikeouts.
"The last couple times in spring training, you could see Timmy getting where he wanted to be, and he took it into tonight's game," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He was his normal self."
He might have made his biggest impression on his newest teammates.
"Just seeing some of those swings, it's like "& man," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "He made some good major league hitters look pretty bad. "& Watching him tonight, I really got an idea what it's all about."
John Bowker, who won an everyday job despite concerns over his defense, validated the front office's decision. He tracked down a deep fly ball in the right field corner to help Lincecum exit the second inning. Center fielder Aaron Rowand made a running catch in the fifth, too.
And Bengie Molina, who once thought he'd be anywhere but catching Lincecum on opening day, smothered countless pitches in the dirt.
The Giants didn't cuff around Oswalt (0-1), but they worked counts, squared up a few pitches and made their own breaks—all things that ran in short supply last season.
Huff singled and Mark DeRosa walked in their first plate appearances as Giants. Molina and Bowker each drove in runs with well struck singles—Bowker's was a deep shot off the short wall in left field—and Juan Uribe followed with a sacrifice fly.
"It was nice watching the bats do their thing today," Lincecum said. "I even got my (sacrifice) bunts down."
The Giants nearly achieved their first opening day shutout since 1994, when John Burkett and two relievers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 at Candlestick Park. But Brandon Medders coughed up two runs in the ninth and forced Bochy to use closer Brian Wilson.
There was no reason to worry about Lincecum after an inconsistent spring.
"Just, c'mon, guys," Huff said. "That was spring training. He'll be fine. He'll do what he does."