The result: a no-hit bid that spanned six innings and his first home win of the season in the Giants' 3-2 victory at AT&T Park, their 11th consecutive home win against the Rangers.
In one week, the Giants were swept by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, then reversed course to do the same to the Rangers, winning both Saturday's game and Sunday's contest by one run apiece.
"That's the kind of baseball we're accustomed to playing: close games," said reliever Brian Wilson, who closed out the game with his 19th save. "If we make the playoffs, that [experience] is going to come in handy."
Giants pitching held Texas to just three hits for the second straight game, and Zito (4-7) was at the forefront. He walked the game's first two batters on 10 pitches, drawing the ire of a sellout crowd, but had retired 10 straight when he jumped off the mound to field a ground ball for the final out of the sixth inning.
A short but stealthy seventh washed away Zito's no-no and shutout: He walked Michael Young on four pitches, Zito's fourth base-on-balls of the game, before throwing what seemed like a harmless changeup to Andruw Jones. The Rangers' cleanup hitter curled the pitch just inside the left-field foul pole for a two-run home run, tying the game at 2. The blast hid behind the foul pole so well, it merited an argument from manager Bruce Bochy but not an umpire-directed review.
Nate Schierholtz pinch-hit for Zito to start the Giants' half of the seventh and, abruptly, his day was done. The Giants lineup wasn't. It rattled off three straight singles, the last of which Randy Winn used to drive Aaron Rowand home for San Francisco's 3-2 lead and a reward for Zito's most watched start thus far in 2009.
"It wasn't a very auspicious start for him," Bochy said of his left-hander. "I thought he started getting the ball down better as he went. He was locked in. A walk and one hit, and the game's tied. A little frustrating, but you have to love the way the team bounced back and got a run for him."
Winn, who was skittish when it came to acknowledging his career success against Texas starter Kevin Millwood (11-for-16 after Sunday), hit a 1-2 fastball to right field for his 27th RBI this season.
"He's a good two-strike hitter," Bochy said. "That's a big hit there at that stage of the game."
It was all in support of Zito, whose 12-to-6 curveball looked awfully reminiscent of the one he spun during his Oakland years. He rode it to his best run at a no-hitter since not allowing a base knock through 7 1/3 innings on July 15, 2005, also against Texas. He's now 18-5 in 31 starts against the second of three teams that tried to snatch him up as an amateur. He called his success against the Rangers a "coincidence." He also scoffed at overthinking about his bid for history.
"To come up at the end and there's no hits," Zito said, "that [would be] a huge feat, but you can't pitch for that.
"You got to treat every pitch like a new pitch and give it the focus that it requires. You can't take anything for granted."
Of his changeup left up to Jones, Zito said, "He jumped on it. You tip your hat right there. So it was important to come out right after that and still shut them down."
Zito finished the inning by retiring three of the next four batters. He retired a season-high eight batters on strikes on the day.
Interestingly, Millwood (7-5), tossed the last no-hitter against the Giants, as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2003.
Millwood allowed the three runs (two earned) over seven innings and struck out 10. He allowed the Giants to load the bases in the third inning when they came up with their first two runs. Travis Ishikawa grounded into a would-be inning-ending double play until Elvis Andrus' throwing error allowed a second runner to cross home plate.
Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less