Zito's hot hand cools as Giants fall

Zito's hot hand cools as Giants fall

SAN FRANCISCO -- After reaching up to snare Josh Willingham's searing seventh-inning line drive, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval punctuated his catch by blowing an enormous bubble with the gum he was chomping. It was a nonchalant, oh-too-cool act -- in short, a very ballplayerish thing to do.

San Francisco's bubble burst Wednesday with a 6-3 loss to Washington, but the Giants mostly shared Sandoval's calm demeanor after their three-game winning streak ended. Though they squandered a chance to climb five games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2004 season, they had no reason to grow unduly concerned at this juncture.

"Our goal is to win the series. We did that [Wednesday]," Giants utilityman Rich Aurilia said. "Are we disappointed that we didn't sweep them? Yeah. But we've been playing pretty well."

Outfielder Randy Winn echoed Aurilia.

"Just looking at today, we're upset about losing the game," Winn said. "But from a bigger picture, we won the series and that has been our goal."

Even left-hander Barry Zito, who yielded four runs in 6 1/3 innings but deserved a better fate, spoke of weathering the setback.

"I just have to stay on my approach and not worry about the loss," Zito said.

But no self-respecting club completely shrugs off a defeat.

The Giants earned the distinction of ending Ryan Zimmerman's hitting streak at 30 games. Washington's third baseman went 0-for-3 with a pair of walks, including an intentional pass in the seventh inning that was necessitated by Zito's wild pitch that advanced two runners and left first base open. Aware of Zimmerman's achievement, the AT&T Park crowd gave him a standing ovation after he grounded into a fielder's choice in the ninth inning.

"I think people in San Francisco are knowledgeable fans. That gesture showed it," Winn said.

But halting history mattered relatively little to the Giants, whose nine-game winning streak against Washington ended. As Winn said, "I would have gladly traded [that] for a win."

Zito's fifth strong effort in a row should have encouraged the Giants. He blanked Washington for four innings and took a 1-0 deficit into the seventh inning, when Washington scored three runs. Two of those runs, however, scored on Elijah Dukes' two-out, broken-bat bloop single to center field off reliever Merkin Valdez. Zito (1-3) essentially matched the standard he set while recording a 1.37 ERA in his previous four starts.

That's exactly what bothered second baseman Emmanuel Burriss after he and his teammates couldn't score against former Giants farmhand Shairon Martis while Zito was on the mound. This was typical. Zito entered the game with the Major Leagues' second-lowest run support, trailing only Johan Santana of the Mets.

"I kind of have a bitter taste in my mouth because of how Zito pitched," Burriss said. "When you have a guy throwing like that, you should expect to be in the game, if not win it. Even though we had been playing well, you don't want to lose like that. Especially with a guy giving his all on the mound."

Martis' effort wasn't lacking, either. The rookie right-hander limited the Giants to two hits in seven innings. He allowed his lone run in his final inning on a pair of walks, a wild pitch and Aurilia's sacrifice fly.

But Martis (5-0) might not have lasted that long had he not escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the first inning by coaxing Aaron Rowand's foul popup. That began a stretch in which Martis retired 14 of 15 batters.

"When you get a young guy on the ropes like that, you like to take advantage of it," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

San Francisco traded Martis to Washington on July 28, 2006 for left-hander Mike Stanton, who pitched effectively the rest of the season. Though the Giants recognized Martis' talent, they had no way of knowing how thoroughly he'd develop, since he was stationed at low-Class A Augusta at the time.

The Giants wouldn't mind seeing Martis again during their June 2-4 series at Washington.

"It's not like he was being 'filthy,' " said Burriss, using player slang for outstanding pitching stuff. "He gave us good pitches to hit."

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