SAN FRANCISCO – Manager Bruce Bochy sat back in his office Thursday morning and talked candidly about the frustrations of a season that had mounted the night before, when the Giants fell 13 games under .500 and Madison Bumgarner allowed that players' focus might be wavering as a result.
Bochy treated Bumgarner's comments as the after-effects of a tough loss, and said he does not believe the Giants have begun to splinter with less than two months left in the season. He also put forth a kind of directive for that remaining time.
"It's going to be important for us to evaluate for the future, but at the same time, we have that obligation to play good baseball, play for each other, the fans, honor the game," Bochy said. "That's by going out there and giving it all you have."
The Giants then went out and offered a retrospective of better days in a 4-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, with Tim Lincecum allowing one hit in eight shutout innings and Brandon Belt providing the needed support with a three-run homer in the first inning – the Giants' first homer at AT&T Park in 12 games.
Lincecum said Bochy had called a pregame meeting where he reiterated the importance of coming to the field with a purpose and playing for nine innings. Whether or not that had an effect, Bochy agreed his team "had a different look today" than in the past few nights, as it managed a split in its four-game series against the Brewers.
"One place we looked different was we got some runs early," Bochy said.
If anyone had a case for frustration with the offensive struggles over the past two months, it was Lincecum. In his 11 starts since the beginning of June, the Giants had scored two or fewer runs eight times and more than three runs once – when he no-hit the Padres.
Thursday, Lincecum had a four-run lead after the second inning. Marco Scutaro led off the first with a single – the first hit in 23 at-bats by a Giants leadoff hitter – and after Brandon Crawford doubled, Belt whipped his hands through on a 1-0 inside fastball that cleared the right-field wall for his 12th home run.
Scutaro singled again in the second inning and scored on a single by Crawford, part of a three-hit day for Scutaro – half the total amassed by Giants leadoff hitters in the previous 19 games. He and Crawford combined to go 6 for 9 atop the order.
Working with catcher Hector Sanchez, who was recalled before the game, Lincecum allowed only a Juan Francisco double in the third and a fifth-inning walk to Jeff Bianchi in his first win since the July 13 no-hitter. He struck out eight while going more than usual to his curveball – something he said he felt comfortable doing with Sanchez looking "sprightly" behind the plate.
In 12 starts beginning June 4, Lincecum has a 3.39 ERA and 82 strikeouts – and only 22 walks – in 77 innings. He threw 108 pitches Thursday, the last a 91-mph fastball Yuniesky Betancourt lofted to right field to end the eighth, sending Lincecum to the dugout amid a standing ovation.
"I like where he's at – mentally, physically, he's stronger and he's been throwing the ball well," Bochy said. "He had that one hiccup (against Cincinnati), but really, you take that away (and) he's throwing the ball as well as anybody."
Lincecum said the extra breaking balls caused a minor blister issue to crop up late in the game, part of the reason Bochy opted not to send him out for the ninth. Instead, Bochy managed the inning like a must-win, using three relievers – including Sergio Romo for the final two outs – to limit Milwaukee's rally to Jean Segura's RBI single.
With Buster Posey getting a day off, Bochy had Crawford hitting second and Belt making his first major-league start batting cleanup. Both have been hot lately, but Bochy said that those spots are "eventually where they could end up in the future, next year, and I like the way they're responding when they've been put in that spot."
Belt is 9 for 20 in August and was robbed of another extra-base hit on a tumbling catch by Carlos Gomez in the fourth inning.
Belt said it was nice for the Giants to play a familiar brand of baseball.
"You kind of get lost in all kinds of mess whenever you're not playing that well," Belt said when asked about the pregame meeting. "Sometimes it just takes somebody to step up and tell everybody to take a deep breath, step back and remember what we can do. And we saw a little bit of that today."