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NLDS Game 4: Zito Starts, Lincecum Wins

And everything was right in the Giants' world, as they'll head to a Game 5 after all.

Andy Lyons - Getty Images

Here's how weird this season has been: When it was announced that Barry Zito would start Game 4 instead of Tim Lincecum, there wasn't a smoldering crater left after the riots at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. There wasn't a riot at all. I personally disagreed with the decision, but I think I railed harder against Justin Christian getting removed from the 40-man roster in the offseason.

Another year, another time, and a decision like that would have set of raaaaaaage. A 10,000-word polemic followed by 5,000-word update of rage. And when that wasn't good enough, Google would have let me down:


This year, though? We watched Lincecum make 33 starts, and just about all of them made us nervous and sweaty. About half of the Zito starts made us angry and sweaty. The brain said Lincecum. The heart said Lincecum. The stomach said none of the above. The stomach took the debate, and the Zito/Lincecum swap was greeted with a loud cry of indifference, as if a million voices sighed at once.

Apparently, we were fools.

The people who didn't rage, that is. If you raged against Zito starting over Lincecum -- raged against the move like it was announced in 2010 -- good on you. You had more faith than I did. And you were rewarded with a Tim Lincecum who controlled his fastball like he had a Wiimote in his pants:

The story of this game should probably be the offense. With eight runs, the Giants probably would have won if Zito pitched a complete game. But Lincecum's the story. Fifty-five pitches, 42 strikes.

Fifty-five pitches, 42 strikes.

Goodness, that was fantastic to watch. And Zito was Zito was Zito -- maybe in six more years we'll know what to expect! He could come back in another game and pitch a classic-Zito quality start. He probably shouldn't start another game in the playoffs if the Giants advance, though. There was a downside to starting Zito, and you just watched it. And it's a downside that probably made Bochy kick himself for being so trusting.

Or, heck, maybe Lincecum needed to feel disrespected to pitch like this. I don't know how these things work. All I know is that Tim Lincecum was the winning pitcher in an elimination game he wasn't even supposed to pitch. And he looked better than we could ever imagine, even though we should have been able to imagine a helluva lot because he's Tim Lincecum..


I wasn't ashamed to watch the Giants lose with a tired rotation. If Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Lincecum pootered out in the NLDS, well, we saw those smoke clouds from over yonder.

I wasn't ashamed to watch the Giants lose with a thin bullpen. The midseason pickup of Jose Mijares was dandy, and the increasing trust in George Kontos helped, but it wasn't a dominating bullpen.

I was ashamed to watch the Giants lose with a feckless offense, especially on the road. We were over that. That was a yearbook picture with a bowl cut, something we could laugh about because it was way the hell over there.

The Giants had the best road offense in the National League. It was a thunderous thing that never ceased to amaze. It was an offense that out-Rockiesed the Rockies in Coors Field, that made for thrilling comebacks all over the country. So, there, America. For one game, you got to watch the Giants as they mostly were during the year. Hitting on the road while a starting pitcher wobbled around all woozy-like.

They can go back to the 2-1 lovers they were in 2010. I just didn't want them to go out so danged quietly after hitting so well for the year.


Hector Sanchez catches like a 14-year-old boy trying to figure out how a bra works.

That was in the middle of the strike zone, but you couldn't tell. But Sanchez also had two walks and a single ahead of Gregor Blanco's homer. The lesson: In a single game, a good way to look foolish is to proclaim that a lineup is significantly weaker because Player X is starting or Player Y isn't. Over 162 games, the difference between Buster Posey and Eli Whiteside is something like seven wins if you believe in wins above replacement. The difference between Sanchez and Belt in a single game could mean everything. But it probably doesn't.

I still don't want to see Sanchez starting another game. But if he gets a chance, I'll just be pleased that the Giants are in the National League Championship Series. Which they can be with just another win.


And if they want to get to the NLCS, they have to get through Mat Latos in his lair. It had to be like this. Latos was supposed to pitch only once, but of course he was going to pitch twice. Of course he was going to pitch in Game 5.

He's going against Matt Cain, too. This is a match-up that can ruin our worldview. This is the ultimate triumph or the ultimate disillusionment. It's a little tacky to phrase this in terms of good versus evil, so I'll refrain from that. But this is a match-up of good versus evil. Mat Latos is empirically evil. Matt Cain is empirically good. There are journals and scholarly papers on this. I don't need to cite a thing.

Think back to the Arroyoing. There was no way it was going to get this far. But it did. The Giants got through a game without an RBI with a win. They got through a Zito start with a win. And now they have to beat Mat Latos.

That makes for a pretty good boss level, indeed. It had to be like this.