SAN FRANCISCO -- For as historic and impressive as Tim Lincecum's no-hitter against the Padres was last week, by definition it did not require Lincecum to pitch out of any big jams -- an often difficult task for the right-hander in recent seasons.
Tuesday against the Cardinals, Lincecum was tested in the fourth inning, when St. Louis loaded the bases with no outs on two broken-bat hits and an inside fastball that hit Yadier Molina. Lincecum's response: Two strikeouts, of Allen Craig and Jon Jay, and a ground ball out by Daniel Descalso to at that point preserve a 0-0 tie.
"That's a great quality that when Timmy's going well, he has," manager Bruce Bochy said after the Giants' 5-0 win. "He finds a way to make pitches when he has to, and he did in that inning."
That fourth inning was perhaps as indicative, if not more so, as the no-hitter -- a brilliant but isolated event -- that Lincecum is indeed going well right now. Case in point: After his first no-hitter against the Padres last July, Lincecum in his next outing surrendered a career-high eight earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in a loss to the Reds. He did not display the start-to-start consistency he often talks about and constantly seeks.
Tuesday, Lincecum backed up his no-hitter with eight more scoreless innings against the Cardinals. It's the first time in his career recording back-to-back outings of eight or more shutout innings, and the first time he's thrown at least seven scoreless in consecutive starts since May 4 and 10, 2011.
More eerie: In no-hitting the Padres last week, Lincecum threw 113 pitches, 73 of which were strikes. In beating the Cardinals, though he allowed four hits, Lincecum threw 113 pitches -- 73 strikes.
The similarities, Lincecum said, extended to his rhythm on the mound. It's often evident when things are going well for Lincecum, as he works quickly and is more expressive in his actions particularly after his delivery, spinning off the mound following strikeouts or hopping in place after a missed location.
Tuesday's 2-hour, 28-minute pace illustrated the first point, and Lincecum indeed spun off the mound after striking out Jhonny Peralta on a high fastball to end the fifth inning. He said he was also commanding his pitches similarly well to the no-hitter.
"Things were working. They weren't crazy nasty or anything like that, or 93-94 (mph), but I was trying to put them in good spots, keep them off-balance, vary my pitches," he said.
"It felt very similar (to last time). Like I said, we try to go out there and duplicate when things are feeling good. I tried to do that today and all my pitches were working when I threw them. They weren't super nasty, they were just located a lot better than usual."
Both strikeouts in the fourth came on well-placed sliders below the zone. Bochy said he was also impressed with the entire pitch sequence in both at-bats with Craig and Jay, and that the inning was "a turning point in the game." The Giants then scored three runs in the bottom of the inning and two more in the fifth to give Lincecum a cushion to work with.
"He really bowed his neck and made some great pitches," Bochy said. "Kept his poise."
Lincecum agreed that the inning was "huge. It was a little frustrating with the hits they got, but that's part of the game and you've just got to bear down and make good pitches after that. (Catcher Hector Sanchez) did a great job behind the plate, and we just kind of went through what we wanted to and things worked out for the best."
They did so for the second start in a row. Despite pitching to an ERA above 6.00 for his first four starts in June, Lincecum for the season is now 7-5 with a 4.06 ERA. He has a 2.81 ERA in 11 starts at AT&T Park, and he's now riding the longest scoreless innings streak of his career since he threw 21 straight in May 2011.
Lincecum will continue to chase the consistency that has eluded him in past seasons. But for Tuesday, parts of the encore to his history-making outing last week were as promising as the no-hitter itself.
"I really don't know how to describe it other than two phenomenal performances," right fielder Hunter Pence said. "He's got that groove, and it's a lot of fun to play behind him."
After totaling six runs in their four-game sweep at the hands of the Reds, the offense also woke up Tuesday, scoring five times against rookie left-hander Marco Gonzales. It was the Giants' first five-run game since June 21.
Pablo Sandoval delivered a big swing in the fourth inning, following Buster Posey's RBI double with a two-run homer to left. It was Sandoval's first homer since June 15, and the 100th of his career. He's the 19th player to hit 100 homers in a Giants uniform in the San Francisco era.
Asked what the number means to him, Sandoval smiled and said: "A lot, man. It's hard to get one. So to get 100 means a lot to me."
Bochy said the Giants held a quick toast for Sandoval in the clubhouse after the game, and the third baseman had a bottle of champagne in his locker afterward.
"Nice milestone," Bochy said. "We got to see them all -- I know I did. And I don't know what's going to happen, be nice to see him hit another 100, but I know he's pretty happy about it."
Bochy was pretty happy, too, to see a flash of the power the Giants showed so often over the first two months of the season. They still ranked third in the N.L. with 77 home runs entering Tuesday, but had hit just two in their previous 11 games and seven in their prior 19 games at home. On the season, the Giants are now 34-14 when they homer and 13-22 when they don't.
There may have been a little mojo behind this one. Sandoval in May started toting around a pair of Madison Bumgarner's old cowboy boots as a good luck charm. They went away for much of June, but Sandoval said he brought them out again before Tuesday's game.
"We had a tough June, so why not try it again?" he said. "Try to get a superstition back."
A five-run lead afforded Bochy a good situation to use Jean Machi, who had allowed four runs and six hits in his past two outings. Machi, who had a 0.29 ERA before those appearances, allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina but retired the next three hitters for a scoreless inning.
"I thought it was important to get him out there. We've got to get him going again," said Bochy. "He had a couple hiccups there, his arm angle probably got a little split-happy. He used the fastball a lot more tonight."
Bochy then dropped this news: Machi just had a baby boy. Machi later said his son, Jean Marcos, was born on Monday in San Bruno, and because the Giants were off, Machi was able to be there for the birth. He also said the impending arrival might have had an effect on him the past week.
"The birth of my son was worrying me a little because I was thinking all the time, when is he going to be born? Will I have to leave the park in a hurry?" Machi said through a translator. "All of those things were in my mind. So now that I'm all relaxed, his birth inspires me, and that's one of the reasons I did so well today."
Regardless, congratulations to Machi on the new addition.
The Giants fell out of first place Monday for the first time in 66 days -- and stayed in second place for one day. The Dodgers lost to Cleveland, 10-3, meaning the Giants are now back on top of the West by a half-game by virtue of beating the Cardinals.
"I think it's a good win for us," Lincecum said. "We've been scuffling lately and needed something positive to happen, especially like this with a shutout. Hopefully that'll steer us in the right direction."
Said Bochy: "I think the day off served them well. ... When you don't hit, you look flat, that's just part of the game. But I will say I think the day off did them well and they came back and played very well today. Defense, we had a real nice game, and of course it starts with your starting pitcher, who really set a nice tone out there."
Ryan Vogelsong (5-4, 3.96) will try to do the same in game two of the series Wednesday night. He draws a tough counterpart, though, in St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright (10-4, 2.01). First pitch at 7: 15 p.m.