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CINNATI -- The thought first crept into Jose Mijares' mind when fellow reliever George Kontos started loosening up in the bullpen in the first inning.
"I thought I'd be next," Mijares said after San Francisco's 8-3 victory on Wednesday evening in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
Right-hander Guillermo Mota even turned to bullpen-mate Mijares and advised him to begin stretching, at one point asking the southpaw, "What are you waiting for?"
Mijares has made 264 regular-season appearances during his five-year career but had entered a contest prior to the fifth inning on only three occasions. Kontos had pitched that early in just five of his 51 career outings.
On Wednesday, skipper Bruce Bochy deployed his relievers earlier than usual to bridge the gap to Tim Lincecum, who silenced the Reds to force one final tilt in a series that has seen a dramatic shift in momentum.
Pitching coach Dave Righetti placed the first call to the bullpen as starter Barry Zito was laboring through the first inning. The soft-throwing lefty issued three walks following a Joey Votto single, and Kontos quickly commenced his warmup routine.
"Every time the phone rings, I get a little bit antsy," Kontos said.
Kontos retreated to the bullpen bench when it appeared that Zito had settled in during a stretch of three consecutive punchouts that paved the way for a scoreless second inning. But Zito surrendered a leadoff home run to Ryan Ludwick in the third and gave way to Kontos four batters later.
Kontos shut the door in the third and struck out Brandon Phillips to open the fourth, but he then served up singles to Mike Leake and Zack Cozart, and Bochy called upon Mijares, his left-handed specialist, a bit earlier than usual.
"I'm used to waiting until the seventh inning," Mijares said.
Mijares fanned Votto, the only batter he faced, and in came Lincecum, the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, who was banished to the bullpen because of a lack of consistent success in the regular season.
"Kontos did a great job. Mijares got a big out there for us," Bochy said. "The bullpen did a great job."
Lincecum swiftly extinguished Cincinnati's rally by striking out Ludwick, protecting the Giants' one-run lead.
"The big thing with Timmy is [that] he's able to get loose so quickly," Kontos said. "It allows for Bochy to do the matchups earlier in the game, and then Timmy came in and started cruising and ate up a big chunk of that game for us, which was huge."
All but one of Lincecum's 189 regular-season appearances have come in a starting role. In his first outing of 2008, he pitched four strong innings of relief. Six months later he earned his first Cy Young Award on the heels of an 18-5 season.
This year, though, he often faltered, falling short of 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for the first time since his rookie campaign, in 2007. Bochy decided before the NLDS that Lincecum wouldn't be a part of the rotation.
After Lincecum limited Cincinnati to one run on two hits while striking out six in 4 1/3 crucial innings, however, Bochy indicated that the former ace likely merited a future start should San Francisco advance.
"He stepped up and did a terrific job," Bochy said. "He had a great look about him, good command, and [he was a] pretty nice long man to have in this game, which we needed."
Lincecum admitted that pitching out of the 'pen freed his mind. No longer has the 28-year-old been concerned with pacing himself.
"You're just here to get outs until they tell me, 'You're done,'" Lincecum said.
The bullpen recorded outs when called upon on Wednesday, albeit earlier than usual. Bochy knew he had his former ace in the hole, though, and Lincecum's dominant outing breathes new life into a series that now rests on a decisive Thursday matinee at Great American Ball Park.
"Timmy being able to go out there and eat up those innings gave Javier [Lopez], [Jeremy] Affeldt and [Sergio] Romo the day off," Kontos said. "I think we're looking pretty good."