Still, all this success has refreshed the Giants, who probably would feel like a new team even with a few less wins, given the roster's infusion of youth.
"We're really not paying attention to how many games back we are. ... We're having as much fun as we can," said right-hander Brian Wilson, who recorded his National League-high 34th save. "By the same token, we're playing legitimate baseball."
A primary beneficiary of this makeover -- or, put in different terms, one of the sources of this surge -- has been Zito, winner of back-to-back starts for the first time this season.
Zito (8-15), who shut out San Diego for eight innings on Aug. 2, worked another eight innings this time, allowing three runs and four hits. The left-hander lapsed slightly in the middle innings, allowing a pair of runs in the fourth inning and another in the sixth. But he retired the last seven batters he faced with assistance from shortstop Ivan Ochoa and second baseman Emmanuel Burriss, who made sparkling defensive plays.
The game's crisp two-hour, 15-minute duration reflected Zito's effectiveness. After struggling for nearly half the season, he realized he needed to quicken the pace of his deliveries. He found his rhythm immediately against the Padres while blanking them on one hit through the first three innings.
"The first few innings I was definitely in a good tempo," Zito said. "The key is to stay with that tempo, regardless of what happens. It puts pressure on the hitter. They can't stay comfortable in there."
Zito's improvement isn't just a matter of timing, as center fielder Aaron Rowand testified.
"Besides him and the catcher, I have the best view in the house, and he's not leaving stuff over the middle of the plate," Rowand said. "He's hitting corners, nipping corners and making guys put balls in play that they really don't want to because he's jumping ahead [in the count]."
Zito also proved valuable at bat, producing a two-out RBI single on an 0-2 pitch from Padres starter Dirk Hayhurst to snap a 2-2 deadlock in the fourth inning.
"Terrible. Lucky," Zito said of his swing, which generated a soft line drive that barely cleared second baseman Edgar Gonzalez's reach.
One pitch earlier, Zito's detractors in the AT&T Park crowd hooted at him as he flailed awkwardly at Hayhurst's delivery.
"Let them boo," Zito said. "It doesn't affect me anymore."
Having to scratch and claw for a victory doesn't affect the Giants, either. They secured their fifth final-at-bat victory in their last six home games after apparently squandering an opportunity in the eighth. Rowand doubled to open the inning off Mike Adams (1-2) but was thrown out trying to advance to third base on Pablo Sandoval's grounder to first. One out later, Aurilia drove Adams' first pitch to the right-center-field alley for his first triple of the season, scoring Sandoval easily.
"I'm happy I redeemed myself," said Aurilia, who slipped while scrambling back to second base as Zito missed a sixth-inning bunt attempt and was tagged out.
Rowand insisted that redemption is possible for the rest of the Giants, who have 33 games remaining on their schedule, including 27 against National League West foes.
"We're not going to jump out on a limb and say we're going to win the division," Rowand said. "But we'll give it a run, with all the games that we have against our own division."