SAN FRANCISCO — Back on the mound in his home ballpark, Tim Lincecum was still far away from his old form.
The former ace allowed five runs in his final start before the regular season, and the San Francisco Giants lost to the Oakland Athletics 7-3 in the Bay Bridge Series opener Thursday night.
With a black-and-orange clad crowd announced at 40,630 returning to AT&T Park for the first time since San Francisco won the World Series last October, many left guessing about Lincecum's future again. He struck out six and walked one in 4 2-3 innings. He gave up five hits, including a home run to Yoenis Cespedes for the second straight start.
Lincecum ended a shaky spring with a 10.57 ERA in five starts.
"I wish I would've gotten out there more," said Lincecum, whose progress was slowed by a blister on his right middle finger earlier in spring training. "But I think we're at the point where you just kind of have to put that at the wayside, and you just have to compete out there to get outs. That's where it all happens. I feel like my stuff is getting there."
Lincecum looked every bit in his comfort zone at the start in front of an adoring fan base that supported The Freak through last season's funk. San Francisco is still anxious to see Lincecum find the dominance that won him consecutive NL Cy Young Awards, especially after watching him regroup in the bullpen in the postseason.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he was satisfied to see Lincecum be consistent with his delivery and believes better results will follow soon.
"He should be pleased with this," Bochy said. "Again, being behind, he hasn't been out there a lot. But this was a good game for him."
Lincecum mowed down the A's lineup with ease over the first three innings. His velocity was still down in low 90s (mph), but his control was better, tossing 20 of 24 pitches for strikes.
Brandon Crawford backed Lincecum's effort when the shortstop ran to his left to snag Eric Sogard's grounder, spun on the edge of the center field grass and threw him out for the first out of the third. Crawford also had an RBI triple in the fourth.
Hunter Pence doubled down the left field line with two outs before NL MVP Buster Posey singled him home to give the Giants a 1-0 lead in the third.
There was a heavier sprinkling of green and gold throughout the ballpark from extra-giddy A's fans eager to see how their low-budget club can follow up its surprising AL West title last season. Tommy Milone gave up two runs and five hits in 4 2-3 innings. He struck out five and walked two, giving plenty of reason for A's fans to cheer.
"It's definitely a better feeling. A night game, you've got a lot of fans here in a big league park," Milone said. "It didn't feel like a spring training game. It's definitely a better feeling."
Cespedes helped Oakland crash San Francisco's party when he sent an 82 mph changeup well over the wall in left to put the A's ahead 2-1 in the fourth. Cespedes dropped his bat and stared for a moment before trotting around the bases, leaving Lincecum looking lost again.