Tim Lincecum provides steady relief as Giants win 8-3 and force NLDS to Game 5

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The Giants looked to be in big trouble when starter Barry Zito allowed three walks and a single in the first inning of Wednesday’s NLDS Game 4 vs. the Reds and a home run to Ryan Ludwick in the third.

But the fellas in the gray “San Francisco” jerseys were the ones sharing handshakes on the field in Cincinnati once the evening was through.

George Kontos and Jose Mijares kept the dangerous Reds offense from inflicting anymore damage when Zito was pulled in the bottom of the third inning, then Tim Lincecum entered in the bottom of the fourth and delivered 4 1/3 frames of one-run ball while fanning six Reds batters, walking none and surrendering just two hits.

It was Lincecum’s second relief appearance of this 2012 postseason, and he was absolutely terrific. The 28-year-old right-hander tossed 42 of his 55 pitches for strikes, looking like a reborn pitcher after registering a career-high 5.18 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over 186 dismal innings during the regular season.

This wacky NLDS was led by the Reds 2-0 just two days ago. And now it’s suddenly 2-2.

Game 5 on Thursday will feature Cincy’s Mat Latos against Giants ace Matt Cain. It should be great.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.