SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum wasn't at his best Saturday night, but he had his moments. After the Giants staked him to a four-run lead in the first inning, Lincecum came back out for the top of the second and struck out the side. After walking the first two hitters he faced in the fourth, he pitched out of trouble with more nasty stuff, freezing cleanup hitter Pedro Alvarez with a fastball and getting Garrett Jones to swing through a changeup to end the inning.
Lincecum didn't get to leave on his terms Saturday -- he issued his fourth walk with one out in the sixth and gave up a double to Alvarez on his 102nd pitch, bringing Bruce Bochy out of the dugout in a 5-1 game. But he did leave to a standing ovation from much of the sellout crowd at AT&T Park -- a scenario that has played out repeatedly over Lincecum's seven seasons in San Francisco, from the Cy Young years to the trying recent ones.
The Giants won for just the fourth time in Lincecum's last 18 starts Saturday. Lincecum improved to 7-13, but entered the game tied for the league lead in losses and could very well still eclipse his career high of 15, which he set last season. And yet the adulation has not worn off from a fan base that turned out again Saturday to watch a last-place team beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-3 behind their erstwhile ace.
"He's earned that," manager Bruce Bochy said. "You look at what he's done since he's been here, Cy Youngs, helping us win two World Series. It says a lot about our fans how they stay behind these guys. It's easy to like the players when they're going good and when they have their moments."
The moments have been fewer and further between for Lincecum in recent seasons, and he sounded almost sheepish when asked Saturday if he still notices those ovations. He'd just voiced his frustration with not being able to "do more" with the early lead the Giants had given him, burning 102 pitches in 5 1/3 innings.
After retiring eight in a row following Jose Tabata's leadoff single in the first, Lincecum lost control of his fastball and walked the first two hitters in the fourth. All four walks he issued came in his final 13 hitters, and he departed with one out and two on in the sixth -- in line for the win, which the bullpen ultimately preserved. He walked off the field with his head lowered, but said afterward he certainly noticed the applause.
"Of course I do," Lincecum said. "I mean, it's hard not to, especially here. They have a knack for making their players feel loved here, and I've known that for years. It's not any different now. It's just hard to be accepting of it when you don't feel deserving."
Lincecum didn't clarify if he meant that just for Saturday or for the past few seasons. His record this season, despite a 4.55 ERA, has been partly influenced by sparse run support. Saturday was just the 10th time in 26 starts he has received three runs of support or more, and in 11 of his last 18 outings, he has received one run or less.
He has not blamed this for his struggles, though he and Bochy both acknowledged that an early four-run lead Saturday probably allowed him to relax a little -- as Bochy put it, "not thinking every pitch might determine the game." Lincecum has always been introspective about his rough outings and showed that again Saturday by declining to take much solace from the way he pitched out of trouble in the fourth.
But when he did, the fans sounded their approval in what projects to be the right-hander's third-to-last home start. If the Giants stay on their current turn Lincecum would start once more at AT&T Park against the Rockies in early September -- and against the Dodgers in the second-to-last series of the season.
Beyond that lies the unknown of free agency, and Lincecum was asked Saturday if the support he has received in his time in San Francisco will play into his decision of where he'll be pitching next season.
"Yeah, definitely," he said. "I mean, this organization as a whole and what it represents, this has a lot of familiarity with me as well as the fan base. That's been without saying for the last seven years, and it'll definitely play into the decision when that time comes."
That time hasn't come yet, Lincecum said, as he hasn't begun thinking beyond the end of the year. But September is just around the corner, and soon he'll have to decide if come next spring he'll be wearing a different big-league uniform than he -- and the fans who continued to show their appreciation Saturday night -- have ever known.
* How improbable was the Giants' four-run first? The offense had scored more than three runs once in its previous five games. Francisco Liriano had allowed more than three runs four times in his first 19 starts. It was the third time all season the Giants have scored four runs in the first -- and the first time they've scored four in any inning at home since May 30 against the A's.
"We haven't done that in a while," Bochy said.
The Giants didn't knock the cover off the ball -- they scored on Buster Posey's broken-bat single, Brett Pill's check-swing dribbler for a single, Pablo Sandoval's RBI grounder that was too slow to be a double play and Gregor Blanco's RBI single -- the only line drive of the bunch, off a pitcher who was holding lefties to a .137 average coming into the game.
You can't argue with results, though, and the three hits with runners in scoring position in the inning were as many as the Giants had in their previous five games overall. Sandoval added another with his two-out RBI single in the sixth.
"It feels good," Posey said of the offense getting some clutch hits. "Hopefully we can build off this and continue tomorrow."
The Giants improved to 44-14 this year when they score four or more runs, which means they've scored three or fewer runs in 71 of their games (55 percent) and are 13-58 when they do. They had 22 wins last season when scoring three or fewer runs.
* Javier Lopez is usually pretty automatic when it comes to left-handers, but here was his history against Pedro Alvarez before facing Alvarez with two on and two outs in a three-run game Saturday: two plate appearances, one walk, one home run.
In fact, Alvarez owns the only homer Lopez has surrendered over the last three seasons -- a solo shot in a two-run game last July 6. Saturday, Lopez got ahead of Alvarez 1-2 and struck him out swinging on a sweeping slider.
"He's done it so many times for us and is facing a guy that's had some success off him, too," Bochy said. "He probably saved the game for us at that point."
Bochy wore out a path between the dugout and mound Saturday, using six relievers including four -- Jose Mijares, Jean Machi, Sandy Rosario and Lopez -- to get the five outs bridging the gap from Lincecum to Santiago Casilla in the eighth. Sergio Romo recorded his 31st save and has converted 15 of his last 16 chances.
* Posey singled in each of his first three at-bats for his first three-hit game since July 13. At the time, he had nine. Before Saturday, he hadn't had one since the All-Star Break.
Posey was batting .325 at the break and has seen that dip slightly to where he went into Saturday at .301. But the average still hasn't gone under .300 since June 12.
* Hector Sanchez said he felt OK after being hit by a pitch on the right ankle by reliever Jared Hughes in the fifth. He stayed down for a few moments but stayed in the game and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
"It's a normal day for me," Sanchez said afterward.
* The Giants can split this four-game series and finish their homestand against a pair of frontrunners 3-4 with a win in the finale Sunday afternoon. It's the Pirates' A.J. Burnett (6-8, 3.09) vs. the former Pirate Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.29). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.
-- Matt Kawahara