Zito, the Giants' Opening Day starter, had been eclipsed as the team's ace, at least in terms of sheer performance. Matt Cain, Noah Lowry and Matt Morris, the other season-long members of the rotation, all possess lower ERAs. But before a paid crowd of 41,395 at Shea Stadium, Zito pitched as a No. 1 starter should -- ending the losing streak, reviving the team's confidence and silencing an NL powerhouse.
Citing 2002, when he won the American League Cy Young Award with Oakland and posted a 13-1 record after defeats, Zito said, "I think that was something the team fed off of. That's the role I want to fill and the guy I want to be."
Shortstop Omar Vizquel, who backed Zito with scintillating defense, sensed the lefty's determination.
"He knew he needed to turn it on, and he did," Vizquel said. "He knows he's in New York against one of the best teams, and he wanted to show everybody here what he's all about."
Zito's strikeouts reflected the variety with which he subdued the Mets. His first three victims, Carlos Delgado in the first inning, Damion Easley in the second and David Wright in the fourth, went down on curveballs. The next hitter after Wright, Paul Lo Duca, watched a fastball for strike three. After Carlos Gomez took a curve for strike three in the fifth, Delgado fanned on an 84-mph fastball in the sixth.
Zito's 122nd and final pitch was a curveball that pinch-hitter Julio Franco took for strike three to end the seventh. With closer Armando Benitez sidelined by a sore right knee, Jack Taschner and Brad Hennessey each contributed a scoreless inning.
"I think the curveball really set up a lot of things," said Zito, who yielded six hits and walked one.
"He controlled the corners," Vizquel said. "That's what made him so successful his whole career. Even when he gets hit, he gets hit in the location where the catcher wants the ball."
Zito (5-5) has won back-to-back games for the first time since April 16 and 21, when he amassed 13 1/3 scoreless innings against Colorado and Arizona. Since his four-inning, seven-run nightmare at Oakland on May 18, Zito has surrendered one run and 10 hits in 14 innings.
"My game against Oakland taught me what happens when you try to be too fine," Zito said. "You have to be aggressive in the zone, let them get themselves out."
That happened with assistance from Vizquel, who twice made barehanded pickups on grounders hit by Endy Chavez, which eased his task in throwing out the fleet Met at first base. Vizquel also ranged twice into short left field for popups.
"When you have a good defensive game, you feel like you help the team win," Vizquel said.
First baseman Rich Aurilia received glowing reviews of Vizquel's efforts from the Mets who reached base.
"Their guys were like, 'Does he do that all the time?'"
Left fielder Barry Bonds rejoined the lineup and went 1-for-3, but the offense revolved around Pedro Feliz, Bengie Molina and Aurilia. Feliz drove in all three runs with a bases-loaded, two-run single in the first inning and a triple in the third.
The Giants rallied both times with two outs and nobody on base, uprisings that Molina sustained with an eight-pitch at-bat in the first inning (he walked) and a 10-pitch marathon in the third (he singled). Aurilia went 4-for-4, lifting his average from .224 to .242, and he scored San Francisco's first run.
"I matched my last three-week total for hits," Aurilia said.
The Giants will try to avoid matching their previous showing against the Mets, who defeated them twice in three games on May 7-9 at AT&T Park, in Thursday's series finale.