Barry Zito took the ball in a fashion that would only be fitting. Facing the St.Louis Cardinals for the first time since he tossed 7.2 shutout innings against them in the NLCS, he again silenced their bats, propelling the Giants to a 1-0 victory in their home opener.
The Giants bats, meanwhile, weren’t too loud themselves. They went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and mustered only one run on a walk by Angel Pagan in the fourth inning.
But a surplus of offense wasn’t, and hasn’t been needed so far this season. As Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area points out, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and now Barry Zito haven’t allowed an earned run over four games (26 innings). They’re the first quartet of starters to do that since the 1916 Milwaukee Brewers.
On Opening Day, Clayton Kershaw was too much to handle. Otherwise, it’s been the Giants simple yet very effective formula that has them sitting 3-1: Pitching, pitching and more pitching.
Starting Pitching: Barry Zito Dominates
Zito had what some would consider an inauspicious task levied upon him. For one, he had to table aside all the home-opener chaos that preceded the actual game. This is hard in its own right. The raising of the flag reminded the Giants and their fans of a truly remarkable time in the franchises’s history. Taking the ball just minutes later isn’t exactly a boon to Zito.
This didn’t even come close to fazing the veteran, though.
As he did in the playoffs, Zito again confirmed that he’s a new pitcher. One with a below average fastball, but one that uses an array of pitches and command to pile up outs.
The lefty pitched seven scoreless innings, and walked three batters on three hits and four strikeouts.
Zito primarily used a four-seam fastball (22 pitches), two-seamer (21) and a cutter (26) to carve up the Cardinals lineup. This trio of pitches worked for him because, well, he threw them for strikes. He compiled a 73 percent strike percentage with his four-seamer, a 57 percent strike percentage with his two-seamer and a 50 percent strike percentage with his cutter.
As for the soft stuff, Zito utilized his loopy curveball 18 times and his changeup 13 times. Neither pitch really had that “nasty” factor. What made both pitches effect, though, was the fact that he threw them in hitters’ counts.
Needless to say, the Cardinals were off balance for most of the day.
Hitting: One Mini Rally Proves To Be Enough
The score pretty much tells the story. There wasn’t much offense, and when the Giants had a chance to expand their lead, they failed.
Hunter Pence grounded out sharply to second base with the bases loaded in the third inning. This was the Giants first real opportunity to get on the board. And ironically, Zito started the rally by slapping Jake Westbrook’s 91 MPH sinker down the left field line. Wisely enough, he put the breaks on as he rounded first.
Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro both proceeded to ground out after Zito’s knock. Westbrook, who walked six over seven innings, gave the Giants another chance by walking Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey. Pence, as aforementioned, grounded out.
By way of the free pass, the Giants scored their first and only run of the game in the fourth inning. Gregor Blanco walked with one out. He attempted to swipe second base a couple of times before Brandon Crawford, who had two hits in the game, ripped a single into center field.
Zito bunted both of them over, but a rare, and I mean rare fielding error by Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina, allowed Zito to reach, loading the bases for Pagan’s walk.
Outside of that mini rally, the Giants were keep in check. Posey fought off a tough inside sinker in the bottom of the seven inning and Blanco also recorded a hit. Neither led to any runs, however.
Bullpen Secures Zito’s Win
Zito didn’t need much help, but Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo both did good to secure his win.
Affeldt induced two groundouts and a strikeout in the eighth inning.
Romo, who entered Friday 2-for-2 in save opportunities, made it 3-for-3 after retiring the beef of the Cardinals lineup–Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig–in order. A six-pitch battle with Craig ended the game. Romo threw four straight sliders, and saved his best for last to catch Craig looking.