Chris Heisey, left, Joey Votto, right, score for the Cincinnati Reds on… (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty…)
SAN FRANCISCO — What Tim Lincecum was asked to do Sunday was unbefitting of a pitcher of his stature.
Performing a role usually reserved for modestly paid journeymen, the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner pitched two innings of middle relief in the San Francisco Giants' 9-0 defeat to the Cincinnati Reds. The loss at AT&T Park was most lopsided shutout defeat in the Giants' postseason history.
Earlier in the day, Manager Bruce Bochy announced that Ryan Vogelsong, not Lincecum, would pitch in Game 3 of the best-of-five NL division series, which the Giants trail, 2-0. If the Giants can win in Cincinnati on Tuesday to extend the series, Matt Cain or Barry Zito would likely start Game 4.
Lincecum, who endured the worst regular season of his career, was relegated to the bullpen.
"I think I kind of understood it a little bit more than you would expect just because I understand the way that I had been going right now," Lincecum said before the game.
His earned-run average of 5.18 was the worst among qualifying NL starters. His 15 losses were a career high. If not for the two-year, $40.5-million contract Lincecum signed before the 2011 season, his place on the team next year would probably be in jeopardy.
Lincecum accepted Bochy's decision with grace.
"I'm not going to be that guy that's throwing a tantrum just because I didn't get what I want or I think I'm not getting what I deserve," Lincecum said. "It's not about that. Right now, it's about the team and it's about winning."
The team needed him to pitch Sunday, not to preserve a lead, but to preserve arms. By pitching two innings of a game that was out of their reach, the Giants were spared from using the relievers they would turn to when ahead.
If Lincecum felt such a role was beneath him, he didn't show it. Entering the game for the start of the sixth inning with the Giants trailing, 4-0, he was electric.
Still one of the team's most popular players, Lincecum was greeted by the roar of the crowd. And for two innings, it was like the good old days again.
Lincecum retired six of the seven batters he faced. When he struck out Ryan Hanigan for the final out of his perfect sixth inning, he pumped his fist. He gave up a two-out double to Brandon Phillips in the seventh inning, but got out of the inning by forcing Zack Cozart to ground out to shortstop.
Starter Madison Bumgarner lasted only 41/3 innings, in which he gave up four runs and seven hits. He served up a solo home run to Ryan Ludwick in the second inning and gave up three runs in a four-hit fourth inning.
Four players had multi-hit games for the Reds, who are within a victory of winning their first playoff series since 1995. Joey Votto was three for four with two runs. Hanigan was two for four with three runs batted in and scored a run.
Starter Bronson Arroyo held the Giants to one walk and one hit over seven innings. He didn't allow a baserunner until there were two outs in the fifth inning, when Brandon Belt singled to right-center field.