HOUSTON Hunter Pence came to his former home and cranked a three-run home run in the first inning Wednesday night.But the hardest slaps in the handshake line belonged to six relief pitchers who rescued Barry Zito and carried the Giants along to a 6-4 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.Zito was handed a 4-0 lead in the first inning but didnt come close to qualifying for the decision. George Kontos received the first major league victory of his career, and it was well deserved after he stranded both Zitos runners in the third inning and retired all eight batters he faced.NL WEST WATCH: Dodgers avoid sweep, keep pace
The defense shined, too especially in the ninth, as shortstop Brandon Crawford snagged a hot grounder to get one out and first baseman Brandon Belt did the same while starting a game-ending, 3-6-3 double play.The Giants retained their 3 12-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West.
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Starting pitching reportEveryone knows that Barry is well compensated, but it appears he did not earn much currency with Giants manager Bruce Bochy in his previous start despite holding the Atlanta Braves to two runs in eight innings.Zito was not sharp and Bochy showed no interest in letting him potentially fritter away a four-run lead, hooking the left-hander after four of the first five Astros hitters reached in the third inning.The Astros already got one run back in the second inning, when Chris Snyder doubled and Brandon Barnes hit an RBI single. Zito kept missing Buster Poseys glove in the third as the Astros collected four singles and a sacrifice fly.It was Zitos shortest outing since April 14, 2011 vs. Arizona, when he sprained his ankle while trying to field his position in the second inning.Bullpen reportGuillermo Mota knows this routine. He has taken the baseball so many times after abbreviated Zito outings, the two pitchers might as well come as a packaged set.But it was Kontos (1-0) who received the baseball first, and he couldnt have done any better. Kontos retired two hitters to strand both of Zitos baserunners in the third, striking out Marwin Gonzalez to end the inning.Then Kontos retired the next six hitters, striking out three of them, before handing the baton to Mota.In his first appearance with the club since serving his following his 100-game ban for a positive PED test, Mota struck out Fernando Martinez but allowed a walk and a hit and then third baseman Pablo Sandoval dropped a ground ball, getting one out when he had a chance for two. With the inning extended, left-hander Jose Mijares gave up an RBI single to Scott Moore as the Astros crept within 6-4.Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez took it the rest of the way, with Lopez recording the save.Good thing the Astros didnt send this game to extra innings. The Giants only had Sergio Romo remaining in the bullpen.At the plateYou had to believe that returning to Minute Maid Park would be a blessing for Pence, who entered the day with a .206 average since the All-Star break.Pence, a lifetime .300 hitter here, nearly hit the freight car full of oranges above the left field fence. His three-run shot was his second homer as a Giant and capped a four-run first inning. It also was his second homer in five games as a visitor here.Angel Pagan started the rally with yet another game-starting hit. He doubled, Marco Scutaro (on his own, we assume) sacrificed him to third and Pablo Sandoval hit a bloop single to put the Giants on the board. Buster Posey walked ahead of Pences deep drive off left-hander Dallas Keuchel.The Giants rested on that home run for a time, as Keuchel set down the next 14 batters. Scutaro finally ended that streak in the sixth by hitting a double that punched out one of the numbers on the hand-operated scoreboard in left field. Sandoval walked in an odd plate appearance that included a foul pop that struck the roof. Posey appeared to kill the rally by grounding into a double play, but the Giants got a break when third baseman Scott Moore, who entered on a double switch earlier in the inning, made an errant throw after fielding Pences grounder.Then Joaquin Arias came through again, lining a two-run triple into the left field corner to open up a 4-3 game.Arias is hitting .426 (23-for-54) with nine extra-base hits in August.In fieldThe Giants had a scare in the eighth when Arias was struck by a pitch just above the left wrist. He was checked by trainers but remained in the game.Arias moved to third base in the bottom of the eighth as part of a double switch, with Crawford entering at shortstop. Crawford made an immediate impact, staying with a sharp hop to throw out Brandon Barnes to end the inning.Then came those sparkling plays by Crawford and Belt in the ninth.Third baseman Pablo Sandoval made an athletic pickup and strong throw on speedy Jimmy Paredes in the seventh, too, as the Giants played error-free.Paredes made the Astros the play of the night. The novice outfielder didnt look inexperienced when he ran down Pences drive near the wall in right field to start the fourth inning.AttendanceThe Astros announced 13,207 paid for the second consecutive night, the smallest crowd in the 13-year history of Minute Maid ParkEnron Field. Tune in Wednesday to see if they can bowl a turkey!Up nextThe Giants conclude their three-game series at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night and wave goodbye to the Astros as a member of the senior circuit. Ryan Vogelsong (11-7, 2.90) opposes right-hander Jordan Lyles (3-10, 5.47).