Instant Replay: Zito shelled, Giants drop series to Red Sox
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SAN FRANCISCO -– They still play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at AT&T Park. But now, it’s accompanied by a seventh-inning retch.

The Giants reminded their fans once again that the search for rock bottom is a never-ending quest. Barry Zito was awful, Mike Kickham got rocked, their defense was beyond abysmal. They couldn’t have made the Boston Red Sox feel more at home if they played “Sweet Caroline.”

How did nearly the same roster win a World Series last year? That might be the question another sellout crowd asked themselves as they walked out the gates following a 12-1 loss that felt even more lopsided than the score indicated.

The Red Sox took two of three. Only a walk-off walk Tuesday night prevented a Boston sweep.

Starting pitching report
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Zito “earned” the chance to start again when Chad Gaudin went on the disabled list, by virtue of the left-hander’s contributions to the club last season and an uptick in stuff while pitching out of the bullpen.

But we are at the stage when every Zito start could be his last in seven seasons as a Giant –- especially when he is spectacularly non-competitive.

It began in the second inning when Zito threw an 81-mph cutter that floated over the dish, and Will Middlebrooks feasted on it for a two-run home run. Zito didn’t have a base open but he did have pitcher Felix Doubront on deck, who had all of one big league plate appearance in his career.

Making it even more maddening, Zito issued a leadoff walk to Middlebrooks two innings later. It was as if the veteran left-hander simply forgot how to pitch.

He wasn’t the only one off his game. A three-run third inning was a comedy of errors, beginning with first baseman Brandon Belt not being able to find the bag with his foot on Shane Victorino’s bunt attempt that turned into a charitably-scored single. Dustin Pedroia and Jonny Gomes followed with RBI hits.

Then came the fourth, when Middlebrooks drew his walk. Victorino hit a fly ball to shallow right field, which has been a Bermuda Triangle for the Giants all season. Hunter Pence didn’t take charge and call off Belt. Belt backpedaled, unsure what might be behind him. And second baseman Marco Scutaro was late to arrive on the scene.

A good second baseman takes charge of a play like that. A more demonstrative right fielder calls off his infielders. J.T. Snow probably finds a way to make that play if he’s the only guy on the field and someone knotted his shoelaces together. The Giants had none of those things going for them.

The ball dropped for an RBI double, and Victorino ended up with a very productive day in the box score.

That was Zito’s last hitter. It might have been the last batter he faced as a Giants starting pitcher.

Over his last four starts since July 14, Zito has allowed 17 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.

Bullpen report
Mike Kickham was fantastic in the sixth inning. But the same problem that plagued his first two big league starts returned with a scorching vengeance.

One clean inning was followed by calamity. The Red Sox scored five runs against him in the seventh, as Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a two-run single and Stephen Drew followed with a two-run homer.

Kickham hit for himself so he could get another inning, and held the Red Sox scoreless in the eighth. Perhaps he showed enough to earn a place in the rotation. Or perhaps he cemented his reputation as a guy whose best big league role might be as a short reliever.

At the plate
The Giants needed a 12-run rally in the ninth. They came up short.

In field
Scutaro bobbled a ground ball for an error. And Kickham threw one away for another.

At least World Series rings aren’t like the Stanley Cup. You don’t have to give them back.

The Giants announced 41,532 paid. The sellout streak is intact, technically!

Up next
The Giants begin a four-game home series with another of baseball’s top teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are nearing their first winning season since Barry Bonds was the 1992 NL MVP. Matt Cain (8-8, 4.35 ERA) takes the mound against left-hander Jeff Locke (9-4, 2.90) in Thursday’s series opener. It’ll be Madison Bumgarner (11-7, 2.87) against right-hander Charlie Morton (4-3, 3.67) on Friday, Tim Lincecum (6-13, 4.53) against left-hander Francisco Liriano (14-5, 2.53) on Saturday and Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.29) against right-hander A.J. Burnett (6-8, 3.09) on Sunday.