SAN FRANCISCO – Who knows why, but in 1976, the Milwaukee Brewers played their first four games on April 8, 10, 13 and 16. Maybe Lake Oconomowoc didn’t thaw out until mid-June that year.
Whatever the reason, that obscure team was the only one in modern major league history to play its first four games without a single earned run allowed by a starting pitcher.
Barry Zito knocked out the St. Louis Cardinals all over again, Pablo Sandoval sprawled to make every play in his vicinity and the Giants found a way to win without a big hit Friday afternoon. Angel Pagan’s bases-loaded walk in the fourth inning provided the margin in a 1-0 victory to cap a celebratory home opener at AT&T Park.
Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Zito have combined for 26 innings and zero earned runs over four games. They joined those Brewers (Jim Slaton, Bill Travers and Jim Colborn, in case you didn’t know off hand) as the only staff since 1916 to own a 0.00 ERA through four games.
And, of course, counting the postseason, the Giants have now won 15 consecutive times when Zito gets the start. One more and he’d equal Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell’s 16-start run without a team defeat in 1936.
The Giants were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and are now just 1 for 16 this season, but starting pitching does tend to be a mitigating factor.
Starting pitching report
You could use Zito’s start in the NLCS at Busch Stadium as a reference point. Or the shutout he threw in last year’s debut outing at Coors Field. Either one applied.
Zito was masterful over seven shutout innings against a dangerous lineup, getting the Cardinals to hit harmless flies on changeups, swing over the top of curves and make soft contact on cutters. The only hard-hit balls happened to be in Sandoval’s direction, and he turned them all into outs.
Quietly, Zito didn’t allow a runner into scoring position until the seventh inning, When Allen Craig singled and Matt Carpenter drew a two-out walk. But with Jeremy Affeldt getting loose in the bullpen, Zito got Pete Kozma to fly out to center to end the threat.
He walked off the mound to a sustained standing ovation, and chants of “Barr-rrry.”
Zito held the Cards to three singles and three walks while striking out four. He threw 59 of 102 pitches for strikes.
Jeremy Affeldt pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Sergio Romo, entering to the blaring Banda music that has become his trademark, got three quick outs while facing the heart of the Cardinals order. Allen Craig looked at a slider to end it.
Romo is 3-for-3 in save situations.
At the plate
The Giants continue to lack the clutch hit, but at least they made right-hander Jake Westbrook work to throw 28 pitches in the third ining and 27 in the fourth.
Westbrook walked six and the sinkerball specialist only struck out one batter. Oddly enough, his victim was Marco Scutaro, who foul-tipped a curveball into catcher Yadier Molina’s glove with the bases loaded in the fourth.
The Giants loaded ‘em up when Gregor Blanco drew a one-out walk, Brandon Crawford did well to dig out a sinker and serve it to center for a single, and then Zito put down a good bunt that Molina, the Gold Glover, fumbled for a rare error.
Pagan drew a four-pitch walk, with several of the offerings not close enough for plate umpire Dana DeMuth.
Zito handled the bat well all game. There was a time six years ago when he handled the bat like a live barracuda. But now he might be the best bunter on the staff. He hit a fillet single down the third base line in the third and was successful in both his sacrifice bunt situations.
Prior to the game, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Sandoval was a little heavier than the team would like, but not terribly far off.
As long as Sandoval continues to play the kind of defense he’s exhibited in four games thus far, his weight won’t be an issue.
Sandoval was spectacular and surehanded while starting a double play and then taking a hit away from Allen Craig in the first inning. He lunged to his left, scrambled to his feet and made a strong throw to rob Westbrook of a hit in the third inning, too.
Hunter Pence assisted Romo in the ninth by leaving his feet to catch Carlos Beltran’s line drive to start the inning.
And because this is the Cardinals and Giants, we are required to update you on hard slides into second base:
Jon Jay tried to topple Scutaro as the second baseman turned a double play in the first inning; Pence tried to return the favor on Daniel Descalso on a Brandon Belt grounder. Both runners slid directly into the base, so no dirty pool here. But Descalso did turn his head and give Pence a look as he jogged back to the St. Louis dugout.
Perhaps Descalso felt that Pence began his slide too late – one of the chief complaints the Giants had about Matt Holliday’s barrel roll that took out Scutaro last October.
The Giants announced 41,581 paid, not counting the tugboat crew from the San Francisco Fire Department that delivered the World Series banner. Officially, the Giants have sold out 166 consecutive regular-season home games dating to 2010.
The Giants continue their celebratory three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, and this time the pregame ceremony will involve presenting Buster Posey with his NL MVP trophy. Ryan Vogelsong, who pitched well in two starts for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, makes his season debut against rookie right-hander Shelby Miller.
First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.