Giants 1, Cardinals 0

Dave Del Grande, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Zito picked up right where he left off last season, shutting out the St. Louis Cardinals on three hits over seven innings as the San Francisco Giants rewarded a sellout crowd in their flag-raising home opener Friday with a 1-0 victory at AT&T Park.
A day that began with the hoisting of the franchise's second World Series championship banner in three seasons in a stiff breeze in front of 41,581 mostly orange-clad fans ended in a sunshine that shined brightest on the day's starting pitchers, Zito and Cardinals rival Jake Westbrook.
Zito, who helped produce wins in his last 11 regular-season starts last year and all three of his postseason starts, made it 15 in a row bridging the two seasons by limiting the Cardinals in the opener of a three-game series to first-, fourth- and seventh-inning singles before turning the ball over to the Giants bullpen.
Cleanup batter Allen Craig had two of the three hits off Zito.
The veteran left-hander was even better than the last time he faced the Cardinals, which was in Game 5 of last year's National League Championship Series. That night, with the Giants facing elimination, Zito blanked St. Louis on six hits over 7 2/3 innings.
Jeremy Affeldt pitched a perfect eighth inning and turned the ball over to closer Sergio Romo, who recorded his third save in the club's third consecutive win after an Opening Day loss in Los Angeles by negotiating the heart of the Cardinals' order in the ninth.
Westbrook, making his first start since being shut down early last September with a strained right oblique, was the hard-luck loser, surrendering only an unearned run in the fourth inning before leaving with two on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
Left-hander Randy Choate got Westbrook out of the mess by retiring Brandon Belt on a soft liner to third baseman Matt Carpenter, but it wasn't enough to prevent a third St. Louis loss in four games. The Cardinals opened the season at Arizona.
Westbrook allowed only six hits, although they combined with six walks to run up a hefty pitch count (115) for a season debut.
Zito often did his best pitching when well supported last season, as demonstrated by his 13-1 record when the Giants scored four or more runs and 2-7 mark when they didn't. But that certainly wasn't the case Friday.
He used a double play to avoid first-inning problems that often have plagued him in the past, then pretty much coasted until getting his biggest out of the afternoon with what turned out to be his 102nd and last pitch, coaxing Pete Kozma into a fly to medium-deep center field with two on and two outs in the seventh.
Zito not only pitched a gem but bunted a couple of times as well, including one that led to the only run support he received. Westbrook walked in the run, failing to throw a strike to Angel Pagan with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning.
A Yadier Molina fielding error on Zito's sacrifice bunt had allowed the Giants to load the bases.
Brandon Crawford, who went just 1-for-10 in the season-opening series against the Dodgers, had two of the Giants' six hits, both singles.
There were no extra-base hits in the game.
Both pitchers struggled a bit early on with umpire Dana DeMuth's tight strike zone, but the teams combined for just six hits in the first five innings against the respective clubs' No. 4 starters.
The Cardinals' best chance in the first five innings came in their first at-bat after Zito issued a six-pitch, game-opening walk to Jon Jay.
Carlos Beltran, a rental player in 2011 who failed to help get the Giants back into the playoffs, then smoked a one-hopper to Sandoval at third base. Beltran never advanced past jog stage on his way to first, allowing the Giants to complete a double play even though Sandoval initially had trouble handling the grounder.
Matt Holliday followed with a walk, but the inning ended when Sandoval dove to his left to take a potential hit away from Craig, retiring him with a strong throw to first.
A hustle play by Pagan gave the Giants a chance in the home half of the third.
After Zito led off the inning with a sliced single to left, Pagan grounded a tailor-made double play ball to Cardinals shortstop Kozma near the bag at second. But Kozma, after getting the force himself on Zito, failed to double up Pagan at first with a bit of a high throw.
Scutaro's hit-and-run grounder to third advanced Pagan to second, and Westbrook then walked Sandoval and Buster Posey consecutively to load the bases.
Hunter Pence couldn't cash in, however, even after getting ahead 2-0 on the count, grounding to Craig at first base.
The hardest ball the Cardinals hit in the first five innings did no damage. With Craig on first and one out in the top of the fourth, Molina belted a Zito curve ball one-third of the way up the left-field foul pole, but just on the foul side.
Molina hit the next pitch on the ground to Sandoval for the Giants' second double play of the game, ending the inning.
NOTES: A half-hour pregame ceremony at AT&T Park culminated in the raising of the 2012 World Series championship banner behind the bleachers in right-center field. ... As opposed to two years ago, when the Cardinals also were the opponent in the Giants' home opener following a World Series title, the visiting team was allowed to warm up and return to the clubhouse rather than have to stand on the first-base line for the entire ceremony. ... The Cardinals (2011) and Giants (2010, 2012) not only have combined to win the last three World Series crowns, they also rank 1-2 all-time in the National League in championships won. The Cardinals have 11, the Giants seven. ... National League Championship Series MVP Scutaro and World Series MVP Sandoval each threw out a ceremonial "first pitch." ... Following their season-opening series at Arizona that ended Wednesday, the Cardinals sent third baseman David Freese to their Triple-A affiliate in Memphis to begin a 20-day rehabilitation assignment. Freese suffered a lower-back strain during spring training.

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