|Tim Lincecum pitched 4 1/3 innings of two-hit baseball in relief on Wednesday. (US Presswire)|
CINCINNATI -- Barry Zito was exactly what the Giants had come to expect, but so was Tim Lincecum, and the Giants used five pitchers to beat the Reds 8-3 in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, forcing a deciding Game 5 on Thursday.
Zito labored through 76 pitches in 2 2/3 innings, but he allowed just two runs on four hits and four walks. Meanwhile, Reds emergency starter Mike Leake pitched longer, but not any better, giving up a solo home run to the first batter he faced and allowing five runs overall in just 4 1/3 innings.
The Reds stranded eight batters over the first four innings, while the Giants were able to add two runs in the second, two more in the fifth and three in the seventh to take a decisive victory and find themselves just another game from an improbable run to the National League Championship Series.
Lincecum, ineffective much of the season, came into the game to get Ryan Ludwick in the fourth inning. Ludwick had already homered in the third to pull the Reds within a run, but had struck out in 11 of 26 career plate appearances against Lincecum. It would be 12 after Lincecum got him swinging to end the fourth. "The Freak" then eased his way through four more innings, giving up just two hits and a run and striking out six.
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Lincecum's performance could put him in positition to return to the rotation, as Zito struggled and his leash has to be short going into a potential NLCS against either the Nationals or Cardinals. As much hand-wringing as there was over his 15-loss season and 5.18 ERA over his final 15 starts, Lincecum was 7-5 with a 3.83 ERA. That won't win another Cy Young, but it should be enough to supplant Zito as the team's fourth starter. If not, he's still a valuable piece out of the bullpen, showing he doesn't need much time to warm up. In Game 2, he entered the game without warming up and made just a few tosses on Tuesday when he was called to get up in the Giants' bullpen but didn't enter the game.
Lincecum's comeback would be just another for the Giants. Down 0-2, headed into three games in Cincinnati, the Reds survived a no-hit bid from Homer Bailey in Game 3 and a Zito start to force a Game 5. With Matt Cain on the mound for the Giants and an under-the-weather Mat Latos taking the hill for Cincinnati, it seems San Francisco is the favorite to move on and have a shot at returning to the World Series for the second time in two years.