ST. LOUIS -- The last time Tim Lincecum started a playoff game, a lot of good things happened.

He pitched tremendously -- 8 innings, 1 ER, 10 strikeouts vs. Texas -- the Giants won Game 5 and also the World Series, you may remember.

Well, here he is again, ready to start Game 4 of the NLCS here tonight, after working his way back into the rotation with three playoff bullpen outings (and thanks to the shakiness of Madison Bumgarner lately, which moved Barry Zito into Bumgarner's Game 5 slot and opened Game 4 for Lincecum).

Will Lincecum dominate a playoff start again?

I don't think we'll see that tonight, though I think Lincecum absolutely can be effective against a Cardinals lineup that will surely be without Carlos Beltran, their best threat from the left side.

Lincecum -- as random a top athlete as we'll ever see -- might not have loved losing his rotation slot in the first round of the playoffs, but we all saw that he was a different pitcher out of the bullpen.

This is a guy who needs maximum effort to get extra life on his pitches, especially now, with the velocity down; and I think it's clear that the instant-electricity of coming in from the pen got a rise out of him.

I remember seeing Lincecum poised at the edge of the bullpen after he warmed up, knowing he was going to come into Game 4 in Cincinnati, and just DYING to get out there -- looking like a kid waiting to get on a rollercoaster.

He brought that energy to the mound, and a looser kind of confidence. He could just air it out, he could be free and easy, and he got positive reinforcement, too, which always helps.

Lincecum threw 81/3 innings as a playoff reliever in three appearances, giving up 1 ER, 3 hits, walking only one and striking out 9. It wasn't like he had blistering 2008-era stuff, but he was still a very good pitcher in those outings.

Maybe all that energy will carry over to this start ... the Giants sure do need him. I'd guess Bruce Bochy will get Hector Sanchez into the lineup to catch Lincecum ... and it's not like removing Brandon Belt so Buster Posey can play first is a large problem right now.

It's up to Lincecum. Maybe he's back. But maybe it's the three relief appearances that are the outlier performances. We'll see, obviously.

He's still the guy who had the 5.18 ERA this season—all as a starter. It'd be an incredible story if Lincecum turns back into "the Freak" in this game, and I'm sure we will see some of that.

It'll be about Lincecum regaining and sustaining his stuff, his confidence, and his electricity, precisely when the Giants need him most.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.