SAN DIEGO — Tim Lincecum has two Cy Young Awards and two World Series titles, but he has never been better than he was Saturday night.
Lincecum threw his first career no-hitter at Petco Park, striking out 13 San Diego Padres in a 9-0 victory. The no-hitter was the third in the past five seasons for the Giants, who were no-hit by Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey earlier this month.
Lincecum threw 148 pitches, 10 more than his previous career-high.
The no-hitter was the 15th in franchise history. Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter against the Padres on July 10, 2009, and Matt Cain pitched a perfect game against the Houston Astros last June 13. Lincecum has struggled for a year and a half, but he joined the no-hitter club Saturday night.
Lincecum had been showing flashes of his old self in his past seven starts and struck out 11 against the New York Mets on Monday.
He started to dominate in the second inning Saturday, striking out Will Venable and Rene Rivera on six pitches. That started a streak of six straight strikeouts on just 21 pitches.
Lincecum retired 12 straight before Everth Cabrera drew a one-out walk in the sixth. Lincecum entered the inning with 98 pitches, and when he walked Chase Headley with two outs, manager Bruce Bochy got his bullpen going. That didn’t last long, as Lincecum got a lineout to short to get out of the jam.
He struck out Yonder Alonso to open the seventh and then got Jedd Gyorko to fly out to left field. With two outs, Venable hit a screamer down the third-base line that Pablo Sandoval corralled before making a strong throw to first. Lincecum headed back to the bench at 114 pitches, 24 short of his career-high. Lincecum had twice before taken a no-hitter into the seventh but had never gotten through the inning.
Lincecum is known for his rubber arm, but Bochy was taking no chances. The bullpen got going again when Lincecum took the mound in the eighth, but he got his pitch count under control with a three-pitch strikeout of Rene Rivera and a two-pitch ground out by Chris Denorfia.
Lincecum walked Cabrera and then went to a 2-2 count on Alexi Amarista. Amarista lined Lincecum’s 131st pitch into right field, but Hunter Pence channeled his inner Gregor Blanco and saved the no-hitter with a diving catch. As he walked backward toward the dugout, Lincecum held up a fist and gave Pence an appreciative look.
Lincecum struck out Headley to open the ninth and Carlos Quentin hit his 142nd pitch to Blanco in deep left. Alonso hit the final pitch of the night to left, setting off a raucous celebration on the mound.
The Giants had lost Lincecum’s last six starts, but he got plenty of support Saturday night. A lineup that scored just 18 runs in nine games on the last road trip has scored 19 the past two nights.
The Giants scored a run on Pablo Sandoval’s double in the first took a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning on doubles by Buster Posey and Sandoval and a homer by Brandon Belt. The blast was Belt’s 10th of the season, a career-high.
Lincecum drew a walk to lead off the fifth and Posey and Sandoval both singled with two outs. Pence cleared the bases with a triple that was just his second hit in his last 26 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Belt followed with a single that put the Giants up 7-0.
Lincecum didn’t need nearly that much help. He reached double-digit strikeouts in back-to-back starts for the first time since April 28-May 4, 2010.
Two weeks after getting designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals, Jeff Francoeur is readying for one of the busiest 48-hour periods of his career. Francoeur is scheduled to make his Giants debut on Sunday against San Diego Padres left-hander Eric Stults. He will take a red-eye flight back to Atlanta after the game and on Monday will be present as doctors induce labor on his wife Catie. The Francoeurs will have their first child, a daughter.
“I’m rejuvenated,” Francoeur said, beaming.
The Giants are hopeful that Francoeur, who signed on Tuesday and played four minor league games, will help rejuvenate a lineup that has struggled to find any sort of consistency. Francoeur was hitting just .208 with three homers in 59 games for the Royals, but the Giants have caught lighting in a bottle before.
Francoeur said he has talked to Cody Ross, who was a surprise spark in 2010, and is hoping to have a similar impact. He had several offers after the Royals let him go, but chose San Francisco because he wanted to join a veteran clubhouse.
“It’s a veteran team and that’s what excites me,” he said. “Look what they’ve done. You want to be part of that, man.”
To make room for Francoeur on the active and 40-man rosters, the Giants sent Nick Noonan back to Triple-A Fresno and designated right-hander Chris Heston for assignment. Heston, 25, was 7-6 with a 5.80 ERA in his first season in Triple-A.
The Giants also sent Jean Machi back to Triple-A and activated Santiago Casilla, who had been out since May 21 because of knee surgery.
A rained-out July 4 game against the Cincinnati Reds will be made up as part of a doubleheader at AT&T Park on July 23.
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