His scuffling Giants had fallen behind in the first inning of every game in their series against the Brewers and desperately needed to get out to a fast start in Wednesday afternoon's contest.
But just five batters into the game, Zito found himself watching one of his pitches sail into the left-field stands for a grand slam.
"I wanted to go out and put up a zero," Zito said.
Little else went right for Zito on Wednesday. The Giants ace was unable to work past the fourth inning, marking the third straight game in the series where the team's starter has stumbled early. San Francisco's pitching woes doomed the club to its second consecutive series sweep, capped by Wednesday's 7-5 loss to Milwaukee before 32,621 fans at Miller Park.
The Giants have lost a season-high seven in a row and 19 of their last 25. The team also got swept for the sixth time this season and the fourth in its last eight series.
"We're going bad, we know it," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
San Francisco's rotation, a strength for the ballclub all season long, let it down this series. The three starters who took the hill -- Noah Lowry, Tim Lincecum and Zito -- combined to go 0-3 with a 11.20 ERA, throwing just 13 2/3 innings. Of the three hurlers, only Lowry pitched past the fourth inning when he went 5 2/3 in the opener.
Zito (6-8) surrendered six earned runs in his four innings Wednesday, allowing five hits -- four of them for extra bases -- and a walk. The left-hander struck out three and hit a batter.
The Giants ace has gone 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA in his last three starts, with opponents hammering him at a .339 clip (19-for-56). Prior to this slide, Zito had won his previous three starts, giving up just one earned run in 20 innings.
"You can't try harder or feel like you have to be double yourself, or twice as good," Zito said. "Any of these things will lead you to get tight and try to be perfect in everything that you do.
"When you're on a roll, things are coming easily and you're relaxed, and you're just confident. I think that's the key for us -- to trust our ability and go out there, and for myself, too, and know that things will turn."
Zito didn't look sharp right from the start of the ballgame, when he gave up a leadoff single to Corey Hart. The southpaw then walked J.J. Hardy on four pitches and plunked Prince Fielder on the shoulder one out later to load the bases.
Zito worked the count full against Bill Hall, but he couldn't finish off the Brewers center fielder, allowing him to foul off three pitches. Finally, on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Zito served up a slow curveball that Hall hammered into the left-field stands for a 4-0 Milwaukee lead.
"The whole series, the first inning killed us," Bochy said. "Just giving up big numbers in the first inning and having to fight back makes it that much tougher."
The Brewers continued to hit Zito hard, tacking on two more runs in the third inning to stretch their lead to 6-0. Hardy doubled to lead off the inning, and Ryan Braun followed by yanking Zito's next pitch into the right-field corner for an RBI triple.
Hall hit a sacrifice fly one out later for a career-high five RBIs.
"It was a matter of fastball command," Zito said.
Claudio Vargas (6-1) picked up the win for the Brewers by allowing four earned runs on four hits and four walks in five innings.
Even with Zito's tough day, the Giants clawed right back into the game with a five-run rally in the sixth inning. San Francisco's first three runners reached base, and Bengie Molina drove everyone in with a grand slam into the Brewers bullpen.
San Francisco then got two more runners on against reliever Brian Shouse, and Bochy called on Barry Bonds to pinch-hit representing the go-ahead run. Shouse got Bonds to hit a grounder to second baseman Rickie Weeks, playing in short right field.
Weeks made a wayward throw to let in another Giants run, narrowing the score to 6-5, but Kevin Frandsen got tagged at the plate trying to score from first base for the second out.
"It's an unfortunate situation to happen," Frandsen said, "but it was an aggressive one, something that I didn't think was stupid at the time."
Bochy said it was Frandsen's call to round third base and head for home, since the play unfolded in front of him at home plate. Weeks' throw rolled to the backstop and catcher Damian Miller ran back to retrieve it.
"I saw him jogging up to the ball, and I thought it was going to roll farther than it did," Frandsen said. "A bobble, anything, I'm safe, and things are different."
Bochy capped off a frustrating afternoon by getting ejected the following at-bat.
With Bonds at second base, Dave Roberts grounded a ball up the middle that he appeared to beat out. First-base umpire Brian Knight waved him safe but immediately changed his call, signaling that he was out. Bochy stormed out to first base to confront Knight about the call and quickly got tossed.
"[The call] killed us," Bochy said. "It killed the inning, because they're fighting. They fought hard to get back into the ballgame, and it just slipped away."
Surely enough, the Brewers responded with another run in the bottom half of the frame to pull away, and the Giants simply couldn't recover from the early deficit Zito had handed them.
"It's amazing how, when you're going bad, it seems like everything goes against you, too," Bochy said. "You fight back to get back in it and you get a bad break. That's what really hurts."
Kelvin Ang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.