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.

Tony Clark: among players, the universal DH “is gaining momentum”

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Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark met the press late this morning and covered a wide array of topics.

One of them: free agency, which he referred to as being “under attack” based on the slow market for free agents last offseason.

“What the players saw last offseason was that their free-agent rights were under attack on what has been the bedrock of our system,” Clark said. He added that they “have some very difficult decisions to make.” Presumably in the form of grievances and, down the road, a negotiating strategy that seeks to claw back some of the many concessions the union has given owners in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. CBAs, it’s worth noting, that Clark negotiated. We’ve covered that territory in detail in the past.

Of more immediate interest was Clark’s comment that the idea of a universal designated hitter is, among players, “gaining momentum.” Clark says “players are talking about it more than they have in the past.” We’ve talked a lot about that as well.

Given that hating or loving the DH is the closest thing baseball has to a religion, no one’s mind is going to be changed by any of this, but I think, practically speaking, it’s inevitable that the National League will have the DH and I think it happens relatively soon. Perhaps in the next five years. The opposition to it at this point is solely subjective and based on tradition. People like pitchers batting and they like double switches and they like the leagues being different because they, well, like it. If the system were being set up today, however, they’d never have it this way and I think even the DH-haters know that well. That doesn’t mean that you can’t dislike a universal DH, but it does mean that you can’t expect the people who run the game to cater to that preference when it makes little sense for them to do it for their own purposes.

Anyway: enjoy convincing each other in the comments about how the side of that argument you dislike is wrong.