By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–Another day in June, another occasion for the A’s to tip their collective caps in deference to an opposing starting pitcher.
Who, in this case, just happens to be Tim Lincecum.
Lincecum resumed his major league career on Saturday in Oakland, and shut down the A’s for six innings to mark the occasion as the Angels cruised to a 7-1 victory. While the A’s hosted the game, Lincecum brought out the crowd, some curious, some referential, and some dressed in orange and black, in support of the two-time Cy Young award winner who pitched nine seasons in San Francisco before he was sidelined by a hip injury.
The crowd greeted Lincecum with an ovation when he approached the bullpen to warm up, and again when he took the mound to pitch the first inning. Both cheers were loud, with the second one louder and lengthier.
“It’s nice being here close to where I started and having my Bay Area fans here,” Lincecum said. “Definitely made it feel like a home game to me.”
Lincecum cruised through the first two innings, gave up a bloop, RBI single to Danny Valencia in the third, and didn’t experience anymore blemishes in his six innings of work. He hit 91 on the gun with his fastball, no surprise given his decline in velocity over the previous couple of seasons. But Lincecum worked smart, and hit his spots, a critical component for the pitcher who was determined to return to the big leagues on his own terms, and as a starting pitcher.
“I wasn’t getting to counts that I’d like to, to get strikeouts, but they were putting the ball on the ground,” Lincecum said.
“He threw fastballs in breaking ball counts and breaking balls in fastball counts,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We couldn’t solve him.”
The A’s were limited to three singles and two doubles, and only in the third inning did they manage to get more than one hit. With Lincecum tiring, and close to the end of his afternoon, the A’s did the pitcher a big favor when Khris Davis grounded into a rally-snuffing double play.
The A’s have lost 11 of 15 in June, and fell two full games behind the Angels, and 15 ½ games behind the AL West-leading Rangers.
The Angels got all they needed in the fourth when Mike Trout and Johnny Giovatella clubbed solo shots to give them the lead. In the sixth, reliever Francisco Rodriguez allowed a RBI sacrifice fly to Andrelton Simmons, while recording the first two outs of the inning. But Rodriguez then gave way to John Axford who threw 22 pitches before recording the final out of the inning. Within those 22 pitches, Marcus Semien booted a ground ball with the bases loaded, allowing a second baserunner to score. Then Trout capped his afternoon with a two-run double that put the Angels up 7-1.
Andrew Trigg was recalled from the minors and made his big league debut, starting and pitching three innings, allowing a run. Trigg operated strictly as a reliever in the minors, and pitched effectively in his first opportunity to start. But of the six relievers to follow Trigg, Ryan Dull and Rodriguez had the biggest struggles, combining to allow four earned runs.
Yunel Escobar and C.J. Cron each had three hits for the Angels, roughly half of their 13-hit attack. Trout and Albert Pujols each had two hits and scored a run.
On Sunday, the A’s look to capture the rubber game of the three-game series with Eric Surkamp facing the Angels’ Jered Weaver. Surkamp’s still looking for his first win of the season, he’s 0-4 with an 8.07 ERA.