Bay Area Baseball

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April 5, 2013
Zito asserts himself, and the Giants react to raising another flag

SAN FRANCISCO -- Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig entered Friday's game with a career line of 4-for-10 against Barry Zito with three home runs. Two of those home runs came in one game last Aug. 7. They remain the only two runs Zito has allowed in his last three starts against St. Louis.

Zito, of course, threw 7 2/3 shutout innings against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS last year and, on Friday, tossed seven shutout innings as the Giants won their AT&T Park opener over St. Louis, 1-0. Craig had two singles. The rest of the Cardinals hitters totaled one hit -- Jon Jay's single to lead off the game -- and three walks.

Afterward, Zito wouldn't claim any particular effectiveness against St. Louis. "I would never say I have anyone's number," he said. "This game's too crazy and too volatile to ever get up on my haunches like that."

But Zito did seem to pick up right where he left off in the playoffs last year, mixing his mid-80s fastball with his cutter and variety of soft stuff to create weak contact from the Cardinals' hitters. He struck out Carlos Beltran in the third inning with this five-pitch sequence: 75 mph changeup, 80 mph cutter, 76 mph changeup, 71 mph curveball, 84 mph fastball. Beltran swung through the last pitch.

"I just think he's throwing his pitches with conviction," catcher Buster Posey said. "He's picking the right times to try to nibble off the corners and picking the right times to attack. He's pitching really smart."

Posey attributed that largely to the studying of hitters that Zito does in his preparation for starts. Zito agreed that's been a big part of his recent success.

"For me it's just about preparation, knowing (hitters') tendencies, knowing what their sweet spots are and their weak spots," he said. "After that, forget everything and live pitch to pitch. ... You have to know that stuff because these guys are too good not to."

No Cardinal reached second base until two outs in the seventh, and Zito promptly got Pete Kozma to fly out to center on his 102nd and final pitch. Much like his last start here, against the Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series, he left to a standing ovation.

"He threw quality strikes, used all his pitches and pounded the strike zone well," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I would say it's very similar to what we saw consistently last year."

* Zito did his best to focus on his warm-up routine Friday while the pre-game ceremony and World Series banner raising were going on around him. Still, he said, he snuck a look over his shoulder as he was walking from the outfield to the bullpen mound, just as a half-dozen of his teammates were raising the flag.

They were Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Sergio Romo and Ryan Vogelsong. The flag arrived by fire department tugboat on McCovey Cove, was brought onto the field by fans and handed to Bochy and the six players. All six walked up through the center-field bleachers to the flagpole in right-center and held the flag while Vogelsong hooked it to a line, then took turns hoisting it.

A few reactions from the people involved:

BOCHY, on the ceremony: "All the guys will tell you the same thing, the emotions were just flying. To see the flag coming in, see how the fans were involved, it's overwhelming, it really is.

"You still have to get ready to play a good ballgame, and they did that too. But I will say before the game, we all had those goosebumps. And I think some guys had tears. It's a special day when you sit there and you watch the flag raised."

And on entering from the center-field fence during pre-game introductions, carrying the World Series trophy: "I tried to pawn it off today. I did. I was offering money. I feel like I'm ball-hogging here."

ROMO, on carrying the flag through the outfield seats: "That was actually really, really cool, the fact that we were just there and able to be amongst the fans. A lot of high-fives, a lot of grabbing and cheering and yelling. To be out there and just to feel the energy and feel how much the fans cared as well, it was really cool."

And on hoisting the flag: "They allowed me to pull it up the last foot or so. ... 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."

PAGAN, who said he found out Thursday he'd be among the flag bearers: "It was a very special moment. We were seeing that part of the ballpark from up there and seeing all the fans. It was a lot of fans just looking at us and looking at the flag and sharing and appreciating the moment that we gave them in 2012. It's something I'll never forget."

ZITO, on whether he would have liked to help carry the flag: "Oh yeah, definitely. I'm sure all 25 of us would've wanted to be up there."

POSEY, on whether he would've wanted to be up there: "I had fun watching them."

* Zito made sure to praise Pablo Sandoval after the game for his glovework at third base. Sandoval made a couple of diving plays to his left and started two double plays as well.

"Third base is a key position when I'm throwing because I'm throwing some off-speed stuff, getting guys out in front," Zito said. "So Pablo's always ready over there."

Coincidentally, Bochy was asked before the game about whether the Giants are still monitoring Sandoval's weight. Bochy reiterated it's an ongoing issue, but the Giants aren't concerned right now and Sandoval has "showed that he's actually in good shape."

* Marco Scutaro said he's still feeling some lingering effects from his back after it locked up on him late in spring training. But he didn't blame that for his slow start at the plate (1-for-15). Bochy also said he isn't worried.

* Zito, meanwhile, is turning into an offensive juggernaut. He put down two sacrifice bunts Friday -- one of which Yadier Molina mishandled, giving the Giants the bases loaded and leading directly to Angel Pagan's walk that forced in the game's only run -- and singled to left field off Jake Westbrook in his first at-bat.

Zito now has a three-game hitting streak. His secret?

"I bring a sand wedge up there every time and try to dump it into left field," he said.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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