By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2010; 12:57 AM
Some pitchers duels are art. Others are a brawl. By that measure, the Giants' Tim Lincecum scored a seven-inning TKO over Phillies ace Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series here on Saturday night.
When the star hurlers had finished their work, it was Lincecum, giving away seven inches and 60 pounds in a heavyweight battle, that got the 4-3 victory. Those wins count toward reaching a Series, too, just like 1-0.
No one knows who will win this trip to the World Series. No one knows if Lincecum and Halladay will meet again. "Long series here. It's a start. That's all it is," said Giant Manager Bruce Bochy.
But for one brisk, breezy evening, before a crowd of 45,929 who mocked the Freak's long hair with wolf whistles, the Giants learned their scrawny right-hander, a mere 5 feet 11, 170 pounds, could match haymakers with the Phils and their 6-foot-6, 230-pound, 21-game winner.
In their previous playoff starts, Halladay pitched a no-hitter while Lincecum struck out 14 Braves in a two-hitter. This wasn't one of those masterpiece nights. This was the other kind of fight.
Both pitchers gave up two homers in their seven innings of work. The Giants got their blasts from Cody Ross, whose blows off Halladay landed a half-dozen rows up the left field bleachers. This wasn't a night for pitching glory, just a rumble to see who could win gory. They say before you get in a fight, you better know what you'll do when you see your own blood. Is that when the fight ends? Or when it starts?
Lincecum answered that question. Two-hit shutouts are fun. Beating Halladay in Citizens Bank Park when you're arguing with the home plate ump and the Phils are bouncing balls off walls or over them, that's real work. "First three innings, we hit some balls hard," said Phils Manager Charlie Manuel. "Then it seemed like Lincecum, he hung in there and he battled and he pitched pretty good." You know the old Red Devil hated saying every word of it.
Twice, the Phils hit high flies to right field that, in other ballparks, might be loud warning-track outs. Here, in Citizens Bank Ballpark, they might be doubles off the wall. But on a night when the 13 flags in center field where all snapping directly from left across to right for the first six innings, both those balls - by Carlos Ruiz and Jayson Werth - were blown just over the barrier into the bleachers for homers and all three runs off Lincecum.
That can take away your courage or give you a chance to demonstrate the size of your heart. Lincecum, who fanned eight men, including Ryan Howard twice, retired the last four men he faced and, after 113 pitches, handed the night to the bullpen of lefty Javier Lopez and closer Brian Wilson, who got the last four outs.
"Tim gave us a great effort," said Bochy. "He made a lot of good pitches [in jams]. That's a tough lineup."
In the third inning alone, Lincecum allowed Ruiz's homer, plus a single to Halladay, a double and walked Chase Utley. But, in typical ghoulish fashion, the pallid pitcher mixed in a double play grounder and an inning-ending strikeout to escape the Phils crypt.
In judging this evening, it's important to grasp that the burdens on the starting pitchers were never equal. The Phils came into as the better team (back-to-back pennants) with the far more experienced, though not necessarily superior, Big Three rotation with Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the '08 World Series MVP, lined up to pitch Games 2 and 3.
So Halladay had the inspiration of great responsibility, but perhaps not its full weight. For Lincecum, the difficulties and doubts were more obvious. The Freak is the Giants' signature player, the initial superstar in a succession of young power pitchers who will follow him in this series: southpaw Jonathan Sanchez (205 strikeouts), Matt Cain (177) and rookie Madison "The Future" Bumgarner (3.00 ERA). But they needed a leader and example. And only Lincecum, with his two Cy Young Awards, had the credentials to show the way.
Another problem is less known. Lincecum is acutely aware that he's had two periods this year when questions arose about whether he would remain a dominant ace; a heavy innings load has already taken a couple of feet off his fastball by age 26.
In May and again in August, he had four-start stretches in which he got bashed. Yet as suddenly as worries arose, Lincecum made them disappear. In September, he unveiled a new pitch, something stars almost never dare to do late in a pennant race. Yet it was this new hard slider that led him to a 5-1 final month.
The core of the Giants' spunk, and the shock element in this game, was Ross, the semi-obscure little No.8-hitting right fielder. "We're got some characters on this team. . . castoffs, misfits. The Dirty Dozen," said Bochy. "We got [two home runs from] a guy who wanted to be a rodeo clown. That's a tough job."
Perhaps Halladay, who hails from Colorado, should have shown more caution with Ross, even though he's Mr. Average Outfielder with a .265 career average. After all, Ross, whose father was in the rodeo, was roping and riding calves and steers on the Southwest rodeo circuit when he was only 5 years old.
Until age 10, Ross was incorporated into the (dangerous) act of popular rodeo clown Quail Dobbs and wanted to be one, too. "Those guys had no fear," said the 5-foot-10 Ross, in shaved head and full beard. "They put their life on the line to save a cowboy."
Told he was too small to be a ballplayer, Ross always bristled. "He thinks he's 6-foot-13," said he dad.
After Ross's second home run, on the heels of a hail of hard-hit balls against Lincecum, the aura of both men was pierced. Much of pitching is mound presence. Can you create the impression that the whole game belongs to you and, that with the ball in your hand, the opponent is essentially passive, a victim alone against his fate?
Halladay creates that oppression with a grim stare, otherworldly precision in his best starts and a variety of pitches that are hard and late moving. Lincecum has the pallor of a vampire and the hair of a grunge guitarist. But it's his dolorous bearing that marks him; he has the mean of an Elizabethan courier who arrives with bad tidings to the hitter. While regrettable, he knows the job simply must be done.
However, as any game evolves, the ambience around the pitchers, even great ones, changes. And Halladay, undone by the catalytic crashes of Ross's bat, was more vulnerable. In the sixth inning, with two outs and none on, the same Halladay who joined Don Larsen last week in hitless lore, allowed a single, double and single in quick sequence for two lightning quick runs. Buster Posey, Pat Burrell and Juan Uribe hit the ball sharply in succession with Burrell's blast smacking off the left field wall.
Yet that 4-1 lead wasn't enough to give Lincecum smooth sailing. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Utley beat out an infield single off Lincecum's glove and Werth crunched his opposite-field homer into the first row in right field to cut the lead to 4-3.
Lincecum might have wilted. In his times at bat, he'd been met with hundreds of wolf whistles, a response Phils fans found appropriate to any ballplayer who'd wear his hair shoulder length. But after Werth's homer, he retired the final four Phils he faced.
When Bob Gibson (1.12 ERA) met Denny McLain (31 wins) in Game 1 of the '68 World Series, the great Cardinal struck out 17 Tigers and pitched a shutout. But anticipated postseason matchups can't always work that way.
Sometimes, the victory goes to the man who gets up off the deck, ignores the packed house, as well as his hulking rival and just keeps on fighting.