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Zito throws another gem vs Cards in SF home opener

AP - Sports

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Barry Zito warmed up inside as the celebration began without him. When he heard his name, he popped out for a quick look.

Then, back to his routine.

Zito spent all winter relishing in the World Series win - and now, he's starting anew.

''I'm grateful,'' he said. ''It was such a blessing. We're not taking anything for granted.''

Zito saved San Francisco's season by beating the Cardinals last fall in the NL championship series, then delivered again with a 1-0 victory over St. Louis on Friday as the Giants celebrated their latest World Series title throughout the home opener.

Zito outdueled Jake Westbrook in his season debut. The lefty also had a key sacrifice bunt that led to San Francisco's run in the fourth, when Angel Pagan drew a bases-loaded walk.

''It was great for us to come out and match right up with the Cardinals again,'' Zito said. ''It felt good to start with one of the best in the league.''

The Giants won their 15th straight game with Zito on the mound, including the postseason. He hasn't lost since Aug. 2 against the New York Mets.

Facing constant criticism yet again for his girth, World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval made several nice stops at third base and ran down a foul popup to back Zito.

''The difference-maker was the defense,'' Zito said. ''Pablo picked me up huge on a handful of plays.''

Zito blanked the Cardinals on three hits through the seventh. San Francisco's starters have gone 26 innings without allowing an earned run so far.

''Unbelievable,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ''We know that's amazing and we can't expect that.''

Jeremy Affeldt pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Sergio Romo closed out the three-hitter with a clean ninth for his third save.

Zito earned a 5-0 victory in Game 5 of the NLCS at Busch Stadium that sent the series back to San Francisco, where the Giants won two more to reach the World Series. They went on to sweep the Detroit Tigers, with Zito winning the opener.

Zito began the year much like he did in his comeback season of 2012, when he pitched a shutout at Colorado.

The last time the Giants won 14 or more consecutive starts by a pitcher was Carl Hubbell's 16 straight from July 17 to Sept. 30, 1936, according to STATS.

Fresh off San Francisco's second title in three years, Bochy carried the World Series trophy out from an entrance in center field as the first Giant announced to the cheering sellout crowd of 41,581.

''I tried to punt it off,'' Bochy said. ''I've been ball-hogging.''

The orange championship flag arrived by fire boat, with members of the San Francisco Fire Department handing it off to longtime fans to carry the final way through the outfield before several players took turns raising it onto the pole.

''It's definitely hard not to look around, especially when they're flying that flag,'' Zito said.

After the 45-minute pregame ceremony, it was Zito's turn. By the time he was done with the 102-pitch gem, he walked off to chants of ''Barry! Barry!''

''Same guy we saw last year,'' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

Zito allowed Jon Jay's leadoff single, then Carlos Beltran hit a hard grounder that Sandoval stopped to begin a double play - one of two turned by San Francisco.

Zito added a hit, too. He singled down the left-field line in his first at-bat leading off the third.

Zito hopes to build on his 15-8 record last season that was his best since the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner joined San Francisco on a $126 million, seven-year contract before the 2007 season.

''Keep it going, Barry,'' Romo said.

For Matheny, a former Giants catcher himself, San Francisco's Game 7 clinching party in a downpour here is still plenty fresh.

''We understood the point once the trophy walked out onto the field,'' he said. ''It wasn't anything different when the flag goes up. We don't need any more motivation than what we already got.''

The two clubs have captured the past three World Series championships - the Giants in 2010 and last year, the Cardinals in '11.

Westbrook, still two wins shy of 100, matched his career high with six walks and struck out one in 6 2-3 innings. Allen Craig had two of the Cardinals' hits.

Westbrook walked Gregor Blanco with one out in the fourth and allowed Brandon Crawford's single before Zito produced another timely bunt. He sacrificed and reached on Yadier Molina's fielding error to load the bases with one out. Westbrook walked Pagan to force in the run.

Zito had a perfectly executed bunt single to drive in a run during that Game 5 NLCS win.

''That's an amazing run that he's had, and really it's incredible how he's turned it around from some of the up-and-down years,'' Bochy said. ''To get off to a start like this, I couldn't be prouder of him.''

Brandon Belt returned to the Giants lineup at first base after missing the final two games at Los Angeles with a stomach bug. Bochy went with the exact same lineup as Game 5 of the NLCS against the Cardinals.

On a day when the Queen classic ''We Are the Champions'' blared through a near-empty ballpark as pregame warmups began, San Francisco started off a six-game homestand.

It will be a weekend of fanfare for the franchise. On Saturday, the team will honor NL MVP and batting champion Buster Posey before the game with other former San Francisco MVPs, and Sunday will be the ring ceremony.

Sandoval and NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro threw out ceremonial first pitches.

''Tremendous ceremony,'' Bochy said. ''Your emotions are just flying. To see the flag come in and how the fans are involved, it's overwhelming. We all had chills, goose bumps. Some guys had tears.''

NOTES: Molina said he congratulated Posey before the game on the championship and his new contract - ''Lot of respect.'' ... A moment of silence was held before the national anthem for late Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial and victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. ... San Francisco has won 11 of its last 13 home openers. ... The Giants began a stretch with eight day games in their next 10. ... San Francisco sold out its 166th straight regular-season game dating to Oct. 1, 2010. ... The Giants are 11-3 in home openers in their 14-year-old ballpark. ... RHP Ryan Vogelsong makes his season debut Saturday for San Francisco against St. Louis RHP Shelby Miller.

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