Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tim Lincecum struggled all night against a patient Nats lineup.
It only felt that way as Washington batter after Washington batter strode to the plate and didn't give in as Lincecum fought through control issues en route to his worst start of the year.
"It's not a philosophy or anything," manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's good professional hitting."
Coordinated endeavor or not, the patient manner in which the Nats went after the two-time Cy Young Award winner proved key to a 7-3 win over the Giants that was as satisfying a victory as any of the 23 that preceded it this season.
"That's why you go out and play the games," said Josh Willingham, who reached base all four times he batted. "You never know what's gonna happen."
No, few could have predicted Lincecum's first loss of the year would come at the hands of the Nationals and Luis Atilano. Though it became obvious from the start tonight something like this was possible.
Even though the Nats wasted some scoring opportunities in the first two innings, they made up for it by making Lincecum work for his outs. By the end of the second, the right-hander had already thrown 42 pitches, issued three walks and gone to a three-ball count against five of the first eight batters he faced.
Lincecum clearly was laboring from the beginning, and the Nationals used that to their advantage in finally jumping on him for three runs in the third and then three more in the fifth.
Was it the Nats' gameplan to work the count and knock Lincecum into submission early?
"It's hard to say that against a good pitcher, because you can try that and then you're hitting 0-2 the whole night. It's a hard thing to force," said Adam Kennedy, who drew two walks. "But he was throwing some pitches out of the zone early, which allowed us to work it."
Once on base, the Nationals also took advantage of Lincecum's slow delivery to the plate. Opposing basestealers were 8-for-8 against him entering this game, and the Nats added four more to the tally.
"When you're getting on base and they're kind of allowing you to run, you take advantage of it," said Kennedy, who did just that in swiping both second and third bases during the fifth inning.
It also took a strong performance from Atilano, who cruised through the evening's first four innings before allowing a solo homer to Juan Uribe in the fifth and a triple to Andres Torres in the sixth.
The rookie right-hander was predictably asked about beating the mighty Lincecum, but he insisted he paid little attention to the matchup and was more concerned with bouncing back after two ragged starts in which he allowed 10 runs and walked seven. He didn't issue one free pass tonight.
"It was really important because I was getting pissed off at myself a little bit," Atilano said. "The way I was pitching is not the way that I pitch. The way I pitch is the way I pitched today."
Say what you want about the unspectacular Atilano, but he's now 4-1, tied with Livan Hernandez for the second-most wins on the staff behind Tyler Clippard (7).
And say what you want about a Nats lineup that hasn't exactly set the world on fire the last few weeks. On this night, that group took down the best pitcher in the game thanks to a deadly combination of patience at the plate and speed on the bases.
"That's how you beat a really, really good pitcher," Willingham said.