Outdueling Justin Verlander, perhaps the game's best pitcher, Zito pitched brilliantly into the sixth inning to earn the victory. Famously left off the postseason roster in 2010 and on the bubble again in 2012, Zito continued his role as one of the heroes of the Giants' run into the World Series.
"I battled in September to make the postseason roster," Zito said. "The last thing I would have expected at that point was to be starting Game 1. Just [having] the opportunity was just magical.
"To be able to go up against Verlander and give our team a chance to go up 1-0, and the fact that we won, it's just kind of surreal. It's just a pleasure to be a part of it all."
The pleasure is the Giants', too. Dating back to the regular season, the Giants have won 14 consecutive games in which Zito has pitched, none bigger than his last two.
"He's kind of been our lucky charm, too -- 14 games now we've found a way to win his ballgames, and he's just had great focus out there and concentration," manager Bruce Bochy said.
Those last two starts in particular delivered more than just a renowned curveball complementing a fastball that topped out at 85 mph on Wednesday. They delivered the Giants hope in the NLCS and early momentum in the World Series.
And with each pitch, it seems, 2010 gets farther and farther away in the rearview mirror. Being left off the postseason roster then has to be considered the low point of several frustrating seasons since Zito joined the Giants in 2007 after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract.
October 2012 is making it all worthwhile.
As it turns out, he had a co-headliner on the Redemption Tour on Wednesday. Pablo Sandoval, who had a limited role in 2010 but has burst out in this postseason, became only the fourth player to hit three homers in a World Series game.
"Baseball is just a very difficult sport," Zito said. "There's a lot of ups and downs, and you have to be professional on the downs and you have to stay [on an] even keel on the ups. It's definitely kind of a cool thing that we're both sitting up here after 2010."
Said Sandoval of Zito: "We were sitting down on the bench in 2010, so I'm happy for him to see the work he put in there, all the pieces [come] together to win his first game [in the World Series]."
In this masterful performance, Zito pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing just one earned run on six hits while striking out three. It wasn't as deep and as dominant as his Game 5 effort in St. Louis in the NLCS, in which he went 7 2/3 shutout innings, but it was every bit as important to the Giants.
Zito's combination of soft and softer stuff wound up being tough for the Tigers, who hadn't played in a week, to tame.
"When he's hitting spots and then goes out of the zone, more times than not, you're going to chase it," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "That's what a pitcher's going to try to do to you. [Zito's] not going to strike out a ton of guys, but he can get a lot of mis-hit balls, because he changes speeds."
Once again Zito let the defenders do a lot of the work, and they did it very well. There were two diving catches by left fielder Gregor Blanco, and an alert play at the plate by catcher Buster Posey that led to a double play.
"I mean, it's just incredible. I've been a bit spoiled this year with the defense," said Zito, who exited after 81 pitches.
Zito added a hit for his second straight game, delivering an RBI single in the fourth off Verlander, helping to contribute to the Detroit ace's shortest outing since June 2009. With it, Zito collected the first RBI by a pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series since Mike Cuellar of the Orioles in 1969.
The matchup with Verlander was the ninth between former Cy Young Award winners in a World Series game, and it wound up being another Cy Young rarity when Zito exited. When Tim Lincecum relieved him in the sixth, it was the first time a former Cy Young winner pitched in relief of another since the Orioles' Jim Palmer followed Mike Flanagan in Game 3 of the 1983 World Series.
"To have him in the bullpen, it's just, like, ridiculous," Zito said of Lincecum.
With that kind of help and defensive players doing their thing, Zito's performance became a satisfying night of work for the front man of this 2012 Redemption Tour.
"Just going up against Verlander, I was coming out here expecting a game that was going to be 1-0, 2-0. ... To go up early in the game like that, get first blood, get the momentum going and then to just cap it off with a couple more and a single as well, it was just awesome, man," Zito said.