SAN FRANCISCO -- Here was an indication of how many Red Sox fans were at AT&T Park on Monday night -- when Dustin Pedroia's line drive to right-center got past Hunter Pence and into Triples Alley, half the crowd still in the first level behind home plate rose to their feet at the possibility of Pedroia trying for an inside-the-park home run.
He didn't, settling for a triple. With David Ortiz batting next, a "Let's go, Red Sox" chant started. When Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled to drive in Pedroia, the cheers were at least equal to the "aw's."
And why not? The Red Sox are still playing for a shot at October; the Giants aren't. After Monday night, Boston has the most wins in the American League and looked a lot like a playoff team. Jon Lester allowed six singles and came within two outs of a complete game. Tim Lincecum faced 28 batters against the team with the highest OPS in the majors against right-handed pitchers -- and 14 of them reached base. The Giants put two on with one out in three of the final four innings and couldn't drive anybody in.
"Tonight we just ran into a well-pitched game and our guy wasn't quite on," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're playing a first-place team, and you've got to play your best ball when you're playing a club like this. And we were off tonight."
Lincecum certainly didn't have his best stuff, getting ahead of hitters but leaving his off-speed pitches up in the zone. Bochy talked before the game about the Giants not wanting to make the rest of this season about playing "spoiler" to the top teams in the league. The only thing the Giants were able to spoil Monday was Lester's shot at a complete game, as back-to-back singles by Buster Posey and Hunter Pence in the ninth knocked Lester out after 115 pitches.
Brandon Workman came in and struck out Joaquin Arias and pinch hitter Hector Sanchez to preserve the shutout. The Giants fell to 4-11 in interleague play -- the second-worst winning percentage in the majors -- and now have a losing record (31-32) at AT&T Park this season.
Bochy was asked after the game if he sees any similarities between this year's Red Sox and his team last year and spent most of his answer listing the things Boston does well.
"I guess one thing similar -- we played well last year and we weren't known for our hitting, our pitching was so solid -- but we did play the game well and got guys in when we needed to. And that's what they do well."
Another hitless night for the Giants with runners in scoring position (0-for-5) underscored that point. The Red Sox were 4-for-12 in those situations, but one run would have done it with Lester's performance Monday.
"They've got a good ballclub," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "There's no doubt about that. You've got to do a better job as hitters coming in of having an approach and sticking with it and hoping things work out for us. They did a good job of keeping us off-balance, and they played better than we did."
Lincecum ran into the big inning in the second that has become the hallmark of his bad starts. This was a weird one -- the Red Sox loaded the bases with nobody out, but it looked like Lincecum had a shot at limiting the damage after Will Middlebrooks hit a sacrifice fly to bring up Lester with runners on first and third and one out. On his first delivery, though, Lincecum appeared to lose his footing and didn't throw the ball.
"Just the foot slipped," Lincecum said.
The balk allowed a run to score. After Lester bunted Middlebrooks to third, Lincecum got to two strikes on Ellsbury but couldn't put him away, and on the 10th pitch Ellsbury's bat nicked the glove of Buster Posey on a swing for catcher's interference. Shane Victorino then singled, and Lincecum trailed 3-0 after an inning in which he threw 32 pitches.
"I didn't do a good job of locating pitches, any of my pitches really," Lincecum said. "My secondary stuff wasn't really biting the way it usually does and changeups were kind of rolling into the zone compared ot going down the way they usually do."
It was the second consecutive rough outing for Lincecum, who allowed six runs in five innings his last time out in Washington. Before that, he had allowed three runs total over 22 innings in three starts.
The Giants may not be playing for much over the final month, but Lincecum certainly is with free agency looming after the season. After Monday, he's tied for the N.L. lead with 13 losses, putting him just two away from his career high. Still, he has been the victim at times this season of very low run support -- he's received two or fewer runs in 16 of his 25 starts -- and he has eight quality starts in his last 14 outings.
Posey was asked if Lincecum has pitched noticeably better in the second half and said he believes so. "I think he's been doing a good job keeping the fastball where he wants it more," he said. "When he gets ahead he's been doing a nice job of putting guys away."
So Monday night was an exception?
"I think so," Posey said.
Lester just missed going the distance for the second time in two career starts at AT&T Park -- he also beat Lincecum when the teams met here in 2010. Andres Torres singled three times off him Monday, Posey singled twice and Pence had a hit in the ninth. That was it for an offense that scored 36 runs on its six-game road trip.
"All his pitches seemed to be working," Belt said. "Kept people off-balance. Couldn't really get the good part of the bat on the ball for most of the night, so he did a good job."
An at-bat that showcased Lester's toughness: Marco Scutaro in the eighth, with runners on first and second and one out. Lester got ahead with a changeup for a called strike at 78 mph, came back with a 93 mph fastball that Scutaro was late on and fouled off, missed on a fastball just high and then threw a changeup down that Scutaro drove into the ground for an inning-ending double play.
It was Lester's 107th pitch of the night, but he was still touching 93 mph with the fastball and still executing his location with off-speed in a five-run game in which the Giants had already let reliever Guillermo Moscoso hit with a runner on base. Pretty impressive.
Bochy and Posey were both asked about the Giants' struggles in interleague play and said there isn't really anything they can point to as a root cause. The obvious answer is they're playing teams from the A.L. East, arguably that league's deepest division with four teams at .520 or better -- as well as the Oakland A's, one of four A.L. teams with 70 wins. After these last two games against the Red Sox, the Giants still have a three-game set against the New York Yankees on the second-to-last week of the season.
Bochy before the game said he thought Posey was seeing the ball better on the Giants' road trip, when he was 6-for-16. Along with the two singles Monday, Posey drove a ball to the warning track in left in his first at-bat against Lester and flew out to center after a six-pitch at-bat in the fourth after fouling off two pitches. With how tough Lester looked Monday, it would suggest Bochy was onto something.
The same couldn't really be said for Jeff Francoeur, who drew the start in left against the left-hander and saw a total of four pitches in two at-bats before leaving in a double-switch when Bochy took out Lincecum. Francoeur struck out on three pitches in the third and made the third out of the fifth inning by grounding out on the first pitch.
Francoeur is now 12-for-62 (.194) with two extra-base hits -- both doubles -- since he joined the Giants. The acquisition was described as a low-risk move by a team hoping to catch lightning in a bottle (a la Cody Ross and Pat Burrell), but so far it has fizzled.
Brett Pill replaced Francoeur on the defensive switch and ended up facing Lester twice. He walked both times for his first career multi-walk game. He'd played 89 major-league games previously without one, and recorded his first in the course of four innings.
One pre-game note: Infielder Tony Abreu, rehabbing in Fresno due to knee bursitis, hurt his groin and was at AT&T Park on Monday getting checked out, Bochy said. Abreu had played in three rehab games, going 5-for-11 with two doubles and three RBIs.
And to end the night, a thank you -- to Speck, the maker of this reporter's laptop case, which saved one MacBook Pro from an untimely death by foul ball in the ninth inning Monday. Writing on deadline has its share of dangers -- anxiety, carpal tunnel -- and in this instance they include not paying seeing late-game foul balls that are headed straight for your face. Fortunately, the ball came in a little lower, and the case prevented major damage to a company-issued machine.
So thanks, Speck. On that note, back tomorrow for Game 2, with Jake Peavy (9-5, 4.41) going against Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.75).