This well-rounded effort should be placed in perspective. The Giants are 5-0 against Washington, which is one of only two NL teams owning a worse record than theirs. Still, this victory was a welcome change after four consecutive losses at home and nine in the previous 12 dates at AT&T Park.
Bent on improvement, the Giants' diligence showed hours before the game as they conducted infield practice, a ritual that has become extinct during the regular season over the last couple of decades. Manager Bruce Bochy announced that the club will take infield at least once during each series for the rest of the season. Bochy noted that the Giants' younger infielders could use the work, while outfielders needed a refresher course on throwing properly.
"Too many times, we're letting runners take that extra base," Bochy said.
Extra-base hits became the Giants' focus as the game unfolded. Fred Lewis opened the scoring with his first career leadoff home run, a drive to right field off Washington starter Jason Bergmann (1-7). Eugenio Velez singled and, one out later, Molina ended his streak of 160 at-bats without a homer by driving Bergmann's 1-1 pitch over the left-center-field barrier.
"I lost something in the middle of July," said Molina, who entered the game in a 7-for-55 skid (.127) and hadn't homered since May 27. "I couldn't see the ball. I couldn't pick up the fastball in time. Sometimes I found myself guessing too much. I wasn't ready to hit, I guess. To have a game like today doesn't say anything about how you're going to end up, but it's a step forward for me and a boost of confidence that I can do it again."
Molina, who had worked extensively with hitting coach Carney Lansford on activating his hands, did it again in the fourth after Washington trimmed San Francisco's edge to 3-2. He opened the inning with his second long ball, cementing his second multiple-homer game of the season and fifth of his career.
Shortstop Omar Vizquel, who was told before the game that he would cede playing time to Emmanuel Burriss, capped the fourth with a two-out RBI double. The Giants' personnel adjustments continued after the game, when backup catcher Eliezer Alfonzo was informed that he'll be returning to Triple-A Fresno, a move that will be made official Wednesday.
Instead of all this movement, what the Giants needed most in the middle and late innings was stability. They received it from Zito (5-12), who overcame an 11-day rest that spanned the All-Star break. After Willie Harris, the NL's reigning Player of the Week, homered to christen the fifth, Zito escaped a two-on, two-out jam by striking out Jesus Flores, who amassed five hits in Washington's previous game and was 7-for-10 with runners in scoring position in his last six games.
Before fanning Flores on a 1-2 curveball, Zito received a visit at the mound from pitching coach Dave Righetti.
As Zito related, Righetti's message was, "Hey, relax, we've got a lead, let's attack these guys." Zito did exactly that, concluding his outing with a perfect sixth inning. The left-hander, who allowed three runs and seven hits, is 3-1 with a 3.64 ERA in his last five starts and has won back-to-back decisions for the first time this year.
"His stuff, no question, has really picked up," Bochy said.
Sporting a 6.56 ERA in the previous three series, the Giants' bullpen needed a similar resurgence. Rookie right-hander Sergio Romo stranded a pair of runners in the seventh by freezing Nationals cleanup hitter Austin Kearns with a called third strike on a 3-2 pitch and retiring Ronnie Belliard on a grounder to first base. Tyler Walker pitched a scoreless eighth before Brian Wilson converted his 26th save in 28 chances. Burriss, inserted at second base before the ninth inning started, contributed a nice stop on Harris' sharp leadoff grounder and made a diving grab on Cristian Guzman's liner.
"The ball found him," Bochy said, referring to Burriss.
And the Giants found themselves.