SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals are in a tough stretch against baseball’s hottest pitchers, and they’re not helping themselves with the few opportunities they’ve had to break out of their funk.
The Cardinals couldn’t score after loading the bases with no outs in the fourth, and they were shut down by Tim Lincecum the rest of the way in a 5-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night.
“When a guy’s making good pitches, you get him on the ropes, you’ve got to make him bleed a little bit. That one slipped away,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Lincecum followed his second career no-hitter with another vintage performance. He pitched eight scoreless innings before Jean Machi tossed a drama-free ninth.
St. Louis’ best chance to score came in the fourth, when Lincecum loaded the bases before striking out Allen Craig and Jon Jay and getting Daniel Descalso to ground out. Lincecum pounded his glove and received a standing ovation from the announced sellout crowd of 41,152.
“We’ve tried to be realistic, too, with the caliber of pitching we’ve been seeing, but when you see an opportunity slip away like that, you can’t completely give all the credit to the pitching,” Craig said.
The Cardinals faced a pitcher with a no-hitter this season for the third time in five games. After Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw led the Los Angeles Dodgers to victories over St. Louis, Craig singled with one out in the second to put an early end to Lincecum’s bid for another no-hitter.
The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, who has shown signs of returning to his dominant form of late, showed the poise and polish of his younger days even when things started to go awry.
Lincecum (7-5) allowed four hits, struck out six and walked two. He helped San Francisco snap a four-game losing streak since his latest gem against San Diego.
Lincecum left after throwing 113 pitches, including 73 for strikes — the exact same line as his no-hitter against the Padres last week — in another strong performance.
“We try to go out there and duplicate when things are feeling good,” Lincecum said. “We tried to do that today. All my pitches were working when I threw them. They weren’t super nasty — they were just located a little better than usual.”
Pablo Sandoval hit his 100th career homer to cap a three-run fourth for the Giants, and he got a bottle of bubbly in the clubhouse for the milestone. San Francisco also scored twice in the fifth to chase Marco Gonzales (0-1) in the left-hander’s second career start.
Gonzales gave up five runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings. St. Louis has lost three straight and four of five.
San Francisco supplied all the support Lincecum needed in the bottom of the fourth. Buster Posey’s double drove in a run before Sandoval’s wind-aided fly carried just over the wall in left to give San Francisco a 3-0 lead.
“Believe in the momentum or not, but it’s usually not a coincidence that right after that they come up with a big inning and get something going,” Matheny said. “That was a great opportunity we had and we just couldn’t do anything with it.
Hunter Pence hit an RBI double and Hector Sanchez drove in another run in the fifth to put the Giants up 5-0.
The performance from San Francisco’s leading men — Lincecum, Sandoval, Posey and Pence — was a welcome turnaround for the team’s fans. The Giants entered the game 1-6 on their homestand, including four straight losses to Cincinnati. It was the first time San Francisco had been swept in a four-game series at its waterfront ballpark, which opened in 2000.
NOTES: The Cardinals recalled top prospect Oscar Taveras and started him in RF, giving Matt Holliday a day off. Taveras went 0 for 3 with a walk. … Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright (10-4, 2.01 ERA) starts opposite Giants RHP Ryan Vogelsong (5-4, 3.96 ERA) on Wednesday.