ST. LOUIS (AP) — The San Francisco Giants were hoping Tim Lincecum had found the form that made him a two-time Cy Young Award winner. Instead, he looked more like the pitcher who struggled mightily this year.
Now, the Giants need a big game from Barry Zito to prolong their season.
Lincecum allowed four runs without making it out of the fifth inning of San Francisco's 8-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League championship series Thursday.
The Cardinals are up 3-1 in the best-of-seven-series and can advance to the World Series for the second straight year with a win at home Friday. Lance Lynn, hit hard in Game 1, will pitch for St. Louis.
Then again, the Giants have been in this situation before. They were down 2-0 in the best-of-five division series before sweeping the Reds three straight in Cincinnati.
"These guys, they're fighters," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "And this club has so much character. We've been through something like this, and we've had our ups and downs. But I've said this so many times, how tough they are and how resilient they are."
Lincecum was relegated to the bullpen in the playoffs after going 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA, highest in the NL among qualifiers.
Pitching in relief appeared to suit him: Lincecum was 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA in 8 1-3 innings, including two hitless innings against St. Louis in Game 1.
The postseason showing was good enough that Bochy pulled Madison Bumgarner from the rotation, moved Zito back to Game 5 and inserted Lincecum.
But Lincecum unraveled quickly. Jon Jay singled leading off the first inning, Matt Carpenter walked and Matt Holliday got his first NLCS RBI with a single. Allen Craig — 0 for 9 in the series — lined to center field for a sacrifice fly, making it 2-0 with only one out.
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said Lincecum was leaving his pitches up in the strike zone. "Anything up we crushed it," Molina said. "We hit it hard."
Lincecum agreed that too many pitches caught too much of the plate. He lamented putting his team behind right off the bat.
"That's the frustrating part, starting off 2-0 in that first inning," Lincecum said. You put your team in a hole and you have to scratch back. That first inning was really big."