SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' 2-1 loss Friday night to the Los Angeles Dodgers reinforced the notion that Tim Lincecum is almost always worth the cost of admission, regardless of variable pricing.The Giants' cupboard is currently bare, save for a few scraps and morsels. There's no more division race, given the 8 1/2-game gap separating first-place Arizona from San Francisco. There's virtually no offense, which has been the case for quite a while. But there's still the pitching staff in general and Lincecum in particular to provide worthy entertainment. The entertainment value on this weird evening was doubled by the presence of Los Angeles left-hander Clayton Kershaw, a leading National League Cy Young Award candidate. Kershaw (18-5) dominates nearly every opponent, but his mastery over the Giants is literally historic. He has recorded a 1.26 career ERA against them, the lowest by any pitcher who has thrown at least 50 innings against the orange-and-black. This time, it was more like the orange-and-bleak. The Giants scratched across a first-inning unearned run against Kershaw on Pablo Sandoval's RBI single, then collected just two more hits off the Dodgers ace in the next seven innings. Meanwhile, Lincecum blanked Los Angeles on three hits through seven innings until Matt Kemp's swinging bunt single led to a two-out rally in the eighth that tied the score. Having thrown 127 pitches, Lincecum disappeared necessarily after the eighth. But Santiago Casilla's wild pitch helped the Dodgers score a ninth-inning run -- which happened to be tallied by pinch-runner Eugenio Velez, the former Giant. Given the potency of San Francisco's offense, the bottom of the ninth, in which Dodgers closer Javy Guerra generated three harmless ground balls, might as well have been canceled. Another dreary day had ended for the Giants. "It's wearing on all of us, obviously, just because this season hasn't panned out the way we would like it to," Lincecum said. "This is probably the toughest part of the year because you've got to grind out the rest and maybe see what happens. Take it game by game and try to battle every day." Lincecum sensed that he had a kindred spirit in Kershaw: "Obviously they're in a similar situation as us where it's not really for anything, but he still comes out and tries to do his job and go deep into games." Kershaw returned the compliment.
"I just try to match him," said Kershaw. "He's an awesome pitcher. You know it's going to be a low-scoring game and giving up one early never helps. Facing a guy like that, it doesn't matter what he's doing, I've got to put up zeros."Lincecum's effort ended a two-game slump. He allowed 10 runs in 11 innings while losing both of those outings. He regained his form against the Dodgers, who went hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position against him through the first seven innings. "We're lucky if we score one [run] for him," said catcher Chris Stewart, perhaps aware that the Giants have scored two runs or fewer in 19 of Lincecum's 30 starts. "Luckily we were able to get that across early tonight. He went out with a vengeance, it looked like. He knew he probably wasn't going to get much more than that." In fact, the Giants have not scored an earned run in Kershaw's last 32 2/3 innings spanning five starts at AT&T Park. But they were four outs away from winning when their luck unraveled. Kemp flailed at a 1-2 pitch and topped it up the third-base line, where the ball remarkably stayed fair as it crawled about 35 feet. Kemp stole second base and scored as Juan Rivera singled up the middle on a 3-1 fastball. Ever the perfectionist, Lincecum said that he "gave in" on the conclusive pitch to Rivera. He also acknowledged that Kemp's charmed infield hit might have jarred his concentration.
"Maybe when I let him steal second," Lincecum said. "I did a high leg kick and kind of gave him a chance to get down there."Rod Barajas singled to christen the ninth against Casilla (2-2) and was replaced by Velez, a Giant from 2007-10. Velez advanced to second base on Justin Sellers' sacrifice bunt and moved to third on a wild pitch. With the infield playing in, pinch-hitter Jamey Carroll smashed a one-hopper to second baseman Jeff Keppinger, who went to his knees to field the ball. Velez slid home, beating Keppinger's accurate throw. Lincecum emerged with no decision, which was preferable to the pair of luckless losses he absorbed in his two matchups with Kershaw earlier this season. In those games, Kershaw blanked San Francisco for 15 innings, while Lincecum surrendered one earned run in 14 innings. "Obviously we want to win, and I want to win," Lincecum said. "I'd definitely like to beat that guy just because he's done it to us and I manage to go head-to-head up against him a lot. Most of the time, it's gone to him." Asked he could take pride in a solid performance, Lincecum replied, "Yeah, definitely. But at the end of the day, we didn't win, so it's tough to take it either way. I'm sure it'd be a lot more fun in here if we weren't where we're at in the race and had we won tonight. Like I said, going up against these guys and a tough competitor in Kershaw, it would have made it all that much more special, I guess."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.