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Giants give solid Zito no backing

Giants give solid Zito no backing

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants crept closer to sealing their fate for this season with Thursday night's 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

Colorado's second three-game series sweep at AT&T Park in two years guaranteed that the Rockies (74-85) will finish third in the National League West, while the Giants (70-89) must settle for fourth. At least that's one notch higher than the last-place finish they recorded a season ago.

But the Giants must sweep the Los Angeles Dodgers in their three-game series beginning Friday to avoid a 90-loss season. Or, scaling down expectations a notch, San Francisco must win twice to improve upon last year's 71-91 record.

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Entering this series with 18 victories in their last 27 home games, the Giants could entertain the notion that they had broken the spell that has haunted them at AT&T Park. But finishing with a losing home record three times in four years won't do much for the Giants' confidence.

The true meaning of this game, however, might not emerge until next April and the 2009 season begins to unfold. At that juncture, the baseball world will learn whether Barry Zito has sustained the momentum he built this year.

Despite losing his 2008 finale, Zito (10-17) worked eight innings, matching a season high, while allowing three runs (two earned) and six hits. The left-hander finished 4-2 with a 3.76 ERA in his last eight starts and posted a 10-9 record after beginning 0-8.

"It's frustrating to end right now," Zito said. "I'm ready to go a couple of more months."

But Zito finished 3-2 with a 3.10 ERA in his final nine starts last season. He knows that observers will continue to view him skeptically next year, given his 2007-08 transition. One difference that will help him, he said, is that he can't sink any lower than he did earlier this season, when he went winless in his first nine starts.

"I think I pretty much got to rock bottom this year," Zito said. "I know what that's like. So I won't even worry about it."

Always diligent with his conditioning, Zito intends to apply himself even more than usual this offseason.

"It's time to make some strides physically," said Zito, who turned 30 this year. Giants closer Brian Wilson, a noted workout-aholic, will spend the offseason at Zito's Los Angeles home. Guess who'll push Zito to run that extra half-mile and press through that extra pushup?

"He's definitely going to motivate me," said Zito, who's destined to spend his Giants career under scrutiny after signing his seven-year, $126 million deal.

Zito also plans to exercise mentally. He wants to preserve the groove he found late this season by writing about it in his journal, which he has kept since he was 18.

"More of a feeling than a thought" was how he described his entries. He said that he'll "focus on that the whole offseason, the feeling that I have had out there."

Colorado left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (10-8) feels good as long as he's facing the Giants. He won his third consecutive start against them, blanking them on three hits through seven innings.

"We can't figure him out," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

De La Rosa's second inning was especially puzzling. After Bengie Molina singled leading off, De La Rosa threw three successive pitches that went for a passed ball, flew to the backstop for a wild pitch and eluded catcher Chris Iannetta for another apparent wild pitch. But Iannetta quickly corralled the ball and threw out Molina at home.

Molina also doubled with one out in the fourth inning, marking the only other time that the Giants advanced a runner into scoring position against De La Rosa.

Shortstop Ivan Ochoa's two-base error helped Colorado notch a first-inning unearned run off Zito, who also yielded a two-out RBI single in the fourth inning to De La Rosa, a .132 hitter at the time. Clint Barmes homered to christen the seventh inning, widening the Rockies' lead to 3-0.

The Giants scored in the eighth as Nate Schierholtz, who has doubled for each of his last five hits, delivered No. 5 leading off against reliever Manuel Corpas. One out later, pinch-hitter John Bowker lashed an RBI single off Corpas' glove.

The Giants put two runners aboard with one out in the ninth, but Rockies closer Brian Fuentes struck out Aaron Rowand and retired pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval on a soft poke to first base to seal his 30th save.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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