SAN FRANCISCO – Barry Zito was busy playing long toss in center field, readying for his start Friday, seemingly oblivious as a half-dozen of his teammates walked through the AT&T Park bleachers carrying the Giants' 2012 World Series banner. But as he made his way to the bullpen mound, he couldn't resist looking over his shoulder.
"I was able to turn around and kind of catch a glimpse," Zito said.
The Giants raised a championship flag for the second time in three seasons Friday before playing the St. Louis Cardinals in their home opener. Zito then took the mound and snapped right back into the 2012 form that made him a major reason the Giants had a flag to raise.
Zito gave up a leadoff single to Jon Jay, then allowed just two more hits in seven shutout innings as the Giants beat the Cardinals 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 41,581 fans who turned out on a sunny afternoon to welcome baseball back to San Francisco.
Zito allowed three singles and three walks and did not allow a runner to reach second base until there were two outs in the seventh. He got Pete Kozma to fly out on his 102nd and final pitch and left the mound to a standing ovation and chants of "Bar-ry!"
The Giants' starting rotation has not allowed an earned run this season in 26 innings. Only one other team since 1916, the 1976 Milwaukee Brewers, has started a season with its first four starters not allowing an earned run.
You're up, Ryan Vogelsong.
"We know that's amazing and we can't expect that," manager Bruce Bochy said. "But it's a credit to how good they are, how well they're pitching. That's a big reason why we're 3-1."
Especially with the Giants starting out ice-cold hitting with runners in scoring position. They were hitless in five such at-bats Friday and are 1 for 14 on the season, leaving 11 men on base Friday and scoring their lone run with a bases-loaded walk.
It was enough for Zito, of whose starts the Giants have now won 15 in a row dating back to last season. The last time a franchise pitcher had such a streak was 1936, when the New York Giants won 16 in a row behind Carl Hubbell.
Zito's streak, of course, included his memorable start in Game 5 of last year's National League Championship Series in St. Louis when, with the Giants one loss from elimination, Zito blanked the Cardinals for 72/3 innings in a 5-0 win that turned the tide of the series.
It was perhaps the brightest moment in Zito's best season as a Giant. As in the NLCS start in St. Louis, Zito kept the Cardinals off his mid-80s fastball Friday by mixing in cutters and his signature curveball.
"It's similar to what he did last year," Bochy said. "He threw quality strikes, used all his pitches and pounded the strike zone well."
Catcher Buster Posey said Zito came out "throwing his pitches with conviction, picking the right times to try to nibble off the corners and picking the right times to attack." He attributed that partly to Zito's study of opposing hitters in preparation for starts, which Zito agreed has been crucial to his success.
"For me, it's just about preparation, knowing their tendencies, knowing what their sweet spots are and their weak spots," Zito said. "After that, forget everything and live pitch to pitch."
For the third consecutive game, the Giants' starter was also in the middle of their scoring rally. With two on and one out in the fourth, Zito dropped a bunt that Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina tried to barehand and dropped, leaving everybody safe. St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook then walked Angel Pagan to force in the game's only run.
Defensively, Pablo Sandoval made two diving plays to his left and started two double plays, and Zito credited him with "picking me up huge today."
Jeremy Affeldt pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sergio Romo struck out Allen Craig looking at a slider to seal his third save in as many chances.
Before the game, Romo was one of six Giants who helped raise the championship banner, which arrived by fire department tugboat on McCovey Cove. Six Giants fans carried it to the field, handing it to Bochy, who gave it to Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Pagan, Hunter Pence, Romo and Vogelsong. All six entered the bleachers and held the flag as Vogelsong hooked it to the flagpole. They then took turns hoisting it.
"They allowed me to pull it up the last foot or so," Romo said. "I was just really glad for the opportunity to be a part of it. Made me feel like a little kid all over again. It was pretty sweet."
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