SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants left town Wednesday night having polished off a mighty productive series against the Colorado Rockies.
They managed 38 hits, 23 runs, three victories and one very important shift in team morale.
Don’t underestimate that last part as they embark on a seven-game road trip that presents a golden opportunity to build on their three-game winning streak.
After dropping two of three to the St. Louis Cardinals in their first home series of the season, the Giants looked like a new team in sweeping the Rockies out of AT&T Park. It culminated with Wednesday’s 10-0 blowout before 41,606 fans on a picturesque afternoon.
They displayed stellar pitching, clutch hitting and astute baserunning, and that was just from Barry Zito.
The left-hander felt the love all day from the sellout crowd as he delivered seven shutout innings. That ran his scoreless streak to 14 innings over two starts to begin this season. That’s the longest season-opening scoreless streak for a Giants starter since Ryan Jensen threw 14 1/3 to begin 2002.
It also marked the 16th straight start the Giants have won with Zito on the mound (including postseason), the longest such streak in franchise history since they won 16 in a row behind Carl Hubbell in 1936.
The lefty allowed seven hits and one walk to go with four strikeouts. When he did encounter base runners, he made the necessary pitches to escape trouble.
“You can’t have more confidence than what Barry has right now,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s fun to watch when a pitcher’s on and he’s hitting his spots. It’s a thing of beauty when you have a guy that’s not just throwing 95. He’s going in and out, down and up. And that’s what Barry does well.”
He also swung the bat, going 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI. Those who witnessed it know that Zito’s hits weren’t ferocious – two modest singles to the opposite field – but he enjoyed the first multi-hit game of his career and is now 3 for 4 on the season.
Asked about Zito’s opposite-field hitting approach, Bochy responded: ““I think it says something about his bat speed.”
The not-so-fleet-footed pitcher also displayed baserunning smarts, tagging up from second and sliding into third while advancing on Marco Scutaro’s fly ball in the second.
“That was a first for me, just tagging up in general,” Zito said with a smile. “It’s something we don’t do a lot of as starting pitchers. It was fun, I felt like I executed my slide pretty good.”
He also got two standing ovations – and chants of “Barry! Barry!” -- from fans who are dialed in to just how much turbulence he’s endured since signing his seven-year $126 million contract with San Francisco before the 2007 season. His pitching struggles his first few seasons in orange and black are well-documented, but dating back to last season’s 15-win campaign, Zito’s career has taken a turn for the pleasant.
Feeling such love from the home fans has to be gratifying for Zito, though he wouldn’t let on to that after Wednesday’s game.
“It’s just great to have fans be so fired up out there,” he said.
But the feel-good vibes only begin with Zito.
The Giants banged out a season-high 14 hits on Tuesday, then topped that with 16 on Wednesday.
Cleanup man Buster Posey went 3 for 5 with three RBIs and fell just a homer short of the cycle. He lifted his average from .208 to .276. Marco Scutaro, who began his season 2 for 23, went 6 for 11 in the Colorado series. And Andres Torres, playing in a left-field platoon with Gregor Blanco, went 3 for 5 with two RBIs.
The Giants have faith their pitching will always show up. When they heat up with the bats, they’re a dangerous team.
Now they begin a seven-game road trip against the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, considered by many to be the weakest teams in the NL Central. The Giants expect terrible weather in Chicago, temperatures likely will be in the 40’s, but they have a great chance to build on their momentum.
They should take the field at Wrigley Field on Thursday overflowing with confidence. Zito was addressing a question about himself with the following quote, but he could have been talking about his entire team.
“Sometimes you look around the major leagues, there’s a lot riding on every game, and there’s a lot of business at this level,” he said. “To try and simplify it and enjoy it is what we all try to do. It’s rare that you can do that, but when you do, it makes it really fun.”