Zito (1-9) had recorded a 3.49 ERA in four outings, three of them quality starts, since his brief banishment to the bullpen ended. But this time, Zito surrendered six runs (five earned) and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Zito cited the walk he issued to Damion Easley that opened the fifth as the beginning of his downfall. It was one of five free passes that Zito issued, including one intentionally. Although only two of those runners scored, both in the big fifth, Zito lamented his inability to throw strikes -- only 54 in 96 pitches.
By comparison, Zito's fellow former Cy Young Award winner, Pedro Martinez, walked three (one intentionally) in six innings, helping make his much-anticipated comeback a success. Martinez (1-0), recovered from an injured left hamstring that had sidelined him since April 1, limited San Francisco to three runs and seven hits. He also stroked two hits, matching a personal best.
"I had pretty good stuff, but walking guys, falling behind was the reason," Zito said. "... For the most part I just tried to be too fine and didn't attack the [strike] zone."
That explanation resembled those Zito offered after other disappointing performances, which won't placate many Giants fans. The audible booing that accompanied his exit Tuesday reflected the feeling among some AT&T Park spectators that this effort represented a regression.
But Giants manager Bruce Bochy defended Zito.
"I thought he made a lot of good pitches and kept the ball down, for the most part," Bochy said. "I don't think it was as bad as it looked. One ball killed us, the Delgado hit."
Bochy referred to Carlos Delgado's infield single that, had it resulted in a double play, would have limited the Mets' uprising to three runs. If there was a turning point, this was indeed it.
With the score tied, 1-1, Zito put Easley aboard, David Wright singled and Carlos Beltran lined an RBI double. Ryan Church followed with a sacrifice fly. Fernando Tatis walked, bringing Beltran to the plate. He hit a high chopper to shortstop Omar Vizquel, the man every Giant wants fielding the ball in such a situation. But with second baseman Ray Durham stationed far from the bag, Vizquel had no choice but to scamper to the base himself. Not only did the sliding Tatis beat Vizquel to second, but Delgado also outran the throw to first.
"There was nothing I could have done. I had to wait for the hop to come to me and try to run to the base," Vizquel said. "But Tatis did a great job getting a big lead and it was hard to get him at second."
Vizquel added that Durham's inaccessibility wasn't a factor.
"If the hop would have been a little lower, maybe I would have had a chance," the 11-time Gold Glove award winner said. "It wasn't a play where I needed to throw it to him. It was pretty much me. If it would have been a ground ball, it would have been great. But if I would have charged it, I would have gotten a really ugly hop."
In came right-hander Vinnie Chulk, who entered the game ranked 10th in the National League in stranding inherited runners (14 of 17, 82.4 percent). But Ramon Castro's bloop single to right field loaded the bases before Martinez poked an RBI single to right field. Durham muffed Jose Reyes' grounder for an error, scoring Delgado, before Easley cleared the bases with a double to left-center.
The Giants made the score less lopsided with a pair of runs in the fifth and three in the ninth on Travis Denker's first Major League homer. But even Denker kept his voice barely above a whisper in a predictably subdued clubhouse. Such was the lingering effect of New York's fifth inning -- which Zito must try to shake off before his next start.
"I don't want to go out there and have a blowout game," he said. "But my body feels good. I just have to put this behind me."