SAN FRANCISCO -- Perhaps lost amidst the breaking news of Melky Cabrera's 50-game suspension for testosterone use early Wednesday afternoon was the fact that there was still a game to be played at AT&T Park -- a much-profiled, highly anticipated one at that.
The rubber match of the three-game set pitted two of the biggest pitching names in baseball, with young phenom Stephen Strasburg leading the Nationals to a 6-4 victory and the series win against the Giants' accomplished but embattled Tim Lincecum.
The anticipated pitching matchup took a backseat with the pregame news, and lost much of its muster when the Nationals got to Lincecum early with a two-run first inning. The two-time Cy Young Award winner's day ended after just four innings, allowing four runs on eight hits.
"I was just battling through four innings, and they beat me to death with foul balls and balls in play," Lincecum said. "They kind of put it on me today."
The Giants took the field less than an hour after Major League Baseball announced the ban of Cabrera, the All-Star left fielder and MLB hits leader, with the players receiving the news in a team meeting around 90 minutes before the start of the game. Cabrera had initially been listed in the lineup, and Gregor Blanco ended up getting the start in left and Pablo Sandoval moved up in the lineup to bat third.
"We play so many games, once it gets cranked up, it feels normal no matter what," Buster Posey said.
The Nationals got their go-ahead runs in the third inning when Danny Espinosa broke a 2-2 tie with a two-run home run, driving in Adam LaRoche, who had opened the frame with a double.
"They put together good at-bats when they needed to," Lincecum said. "That blow by Espinosa in the third was crushing. Just battling through those four innings, I wasn't throwing the quality strikes when I needed to, I wasn't throwing the way I thought I should have and not putting guys away when I thought I should have."
LaRoche had earlier notched a bases-loaded two-run single in the first inning, but the Giants responded by loading the bases in the second inning with walks from Posey and Hunter Pence and a single from Brandon Belt.
After starting off 0-2, Strasburg threw Crawford three straight changeups, with Crawford sending the last one to right field or a two-run single.
"Sometimes that'll happen," Strasburg said. "I was making pitches, but I wasn't getting ahead on them. It was a tough situation. I think the worst pitch was throwing ... three changeups in a row to Crawford. That's not the way I want to pitch guys, but I just felt good at the time and made a good pitch, but he saw it two times before and he put a pretty good swing on it."
Strasburg gave up those two runs on four hits, departing after six innings and 100 pitches.
Busy preparing for his start, Lincecum wasn't in the clubhouse for the team meeting and only later found out while watching TV. He declined to comment on his personal reaction to Cabrera's suspension, but did say: "It is crushing, obviously, to hear that your best hitter is not going to be in the lineup, but it's just like a day when they'll get a day off."
A late Giants rally against Washington closer Tyler Clippard fell short in the bottom of the ninth. After Hector Sanchez singled to right with two outs and then scored when Pablo Sandoval's popup to first was dropped by LaRoche, Posey -- representing the tying run -- struck out on a foul tip.
"Timmy was off today," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, saying that he did not think the news of Cabrera's suspension affected his team's play. "It was a rough outing, a rough first inning that caught up with him with the pitches that he had to throw. We had some long innings there, but I was proud of how we fought back. We had our tying run up there with a pretty good hitter, so we were fighting."
The 24-year-old Strasburg's electric pitching repertoire and quick ascension to pitching stardom has drawn comparisons to Lincecum, a four-time All Star who was once considered to be one of the best pitchers in the game. The Giants' 2006 first-round Draft pick has struggled through his sixth year in the Majors, but Wednesday's outing snapped a three-start stretch of quality outings. He dropped to 6-13 with a 5.45 ERA this season.
"I just know that I have to go back out there in five more games and then go to work again," Lincecum said. "It's easy to put this behind me when I know that it's just going to motivate me to work hard."
Jay Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.