ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals look at Tim Lincecum and see a gifted, slightly built right-hander who could pass for Roy Oswalt. A scary comparison, to be sure. Lincecum has indeed been Oswalt-like against St. Louis in the last week. Six days after he fanned 11 in a six-inning winning stint against the Cards in Northern California, Lincecum came back even better Saturday with seven shutout innings in a 3-0 San Francisco victory at Busch Stadium.
Against the club with the best batting average (.282) in the National League, Lincecum had all the answers. He's now 3-0 in three career starts against the Cardinals with a 2.37 combined ERA in those games. "He does remind me of a young Roy Oswalt," Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick said. Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap and the Cardinals were doing plenty of tipping after being shut out for the first time this season. St. Louis was 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and didn't get an extra-base hit. St. Louis manager Tony La Russa didn't fault his team's approach against Lincecum, who got through seven innings on 95 pitches. Lincecum was at his best in a telling fourth inning. The Cardinals, trailing 2-0, put the first two on in front of Albert Pujols, who ran the count to 3-0. Lincecum roared back to fan Pujols on a breaking ball in the dirt. But even then, Lincecum was in a sticky situation as the Cardinals executed a double steal on the third strike to Pujols. With runners at second and third and one out, Lincecum fanned cleanup hitter Rick Ankiel and got Adam Kennedy on a groundout. "It was a real opportunity," La Russa said. "You look at what he did to get guys out." With Lincecum posting zeros against the St. Louis offense, Cardinals starter Joel Pineiro was reduced to second billing. The Cards were encouraged to see Pineiro show improvement in his second start, but there simply wasn't a margin for error. A run-scoring double by Jose Castillo, a solo homer by Aaron Rowand and Rowand's RBI single gave Lincecum more offensive support than he would need. Pineiro worked 6 1/3 innings. "I thought it was a quality start," Pineiro said. "One run would have done it for them. When a guy like that is dealing, you've got to almost be perfect. But I feel good about what I did today." Against those same Giants, Pineiro had allowed six runs on 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings last Sunday. "I feel I'm where I need to be," Pineiro said. "Maybe a little more finesse on some of the pitches." Pineiro described the fourth-inning homer by Rowand, which made it 2-0, as a "cookie" that he left in the middle of the plate. But it was a performance that Pineiro thinks he can build on as he attempts to augment the Cardinals' rotation. Pineiro hasn't recorded a strikeout in either of his two starts, but said he's not concerned about that statistic. "I don't look for strikeouts," said Pineiro, who went to a three-ball count on just two of the 24 hitters he faced. "I'm out there trying to get the hitter on the first three or four pitches. It's like [pitching coach Dave] Duncan says: If you can get a guy on two or three pitches, you can be out there seven or eight innings." The Cardinals (12-6) are just glad they won't have to face Lincecum the remainder of the regular season. After Sunday's game, the season series will already be over. "We had some opportunities, but couldn't get that big hit," Kennedy said. "Lincecum can pretty much throw anything. His fastball is so powerful that he doesn't have to be perfect with it. "He got out of some situations because he has the stuff to do it. It's just tough to string together hits off that guy." Another Oswalt? Only time will tell whether Lincecum meets that lofty criteria of the Houston ace over the long haul. The silver lining for the Cardinals is that they won't have to worry about it until next season.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.