Zito stifles Dodgers to give Giants breathing room

Zito stifles Dodgers to give Giants breathing room

Zito stifles Dodgers to give Giants breathing room
SAN FRANCISCO -- While the Dodgers changed plans Sunday, the Giants stuck to theirs.

The Giants might've had to pitch a shutout to defeat Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers ace who typically blights their bats. Though Los Angeles scratched Kershaw from his expected start, the Giants threw nothing but zeroes anyway.

Barry Zito permitted four hits in 6 1/3 innings and Buster Posey homered as the Giants accelerated their drive toward the postseason with a 4-0 victory, their National League-high 13th shutout.

The Giants lengthened their NL West lead over second-place Los Angeles to 5 1/2 games by winning twice during the three-game series. Moreover, the road toward October is decidedly smoother for San Francisco than for the Dodgers. The Giants face teams currently below .500 in their next 19 games, while the Dodgers confront Wild Card contender St. Louis and division leaders Washington and Cincinnati during that stretch.

Chanting the there's-a-lot-of-baseball-left mantra, the Giants refused to assume that they've taken control of the West.

"We like where we're at," Zito said. "It's certainly better than being even. But we can't rest on our laurels. We have to fight every day."

The Dodgers must be even more pugnacious. Should the Giants (79-61) play .500 ball the rest of the way to finish 90-72, Los Angeles would have to go 16-5 to pull even.

Said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, "I'm not going to quit. I'm not rolling home, giving up and I'm not expecting the guys to do that. You can write it's over and say we're done. That's not what I believe."

This homestand reminded the Giants that Los Angeles and other foes will strive to derail them. They lost two of three to stubborn Arizona before engaging in the showdown against the Dodgers. A loss Sunday would have left the Dodgers 3 1/2 games behind San Francisco and revived their postseason hopes.

Thus, Bochy said, "I thought this was a critical game for us."

It was a critical game for Zito, who worked a combined 7 1/3 innings while allowing seven runs in his previous two starts. He insisted that he didn't dwell on whether he might be included in the Giants' postseason pitching rotation -- "It's not good for me to think about anything outside tomorrow," he said -- but that will become an unavoidable issue in the coming weeks.

Zito responded admirably. Bochy praised his concentration; Posey cited the left-hander's confidence. Neither quality wavered. Zito pitched only two 1-2-3 innings but held the Dodgers hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position. Slugging center fielder Matt Kemp (shoulder) was out of Los Angeles' lineup for the second day in a row, which didn't help the Dodgers as they went 1-for-23 with runners in scoring position during the series.

San Francisco has won its last seven games started by Zito (11-8), who equaled his 2007 single-season high for victories as a Giant. He appreciated the standing ovation he received from the AT&T Park crowd of 41,517 upon leaving the game. "The atmosphere tonight was probably more electric than I've ever seen," Zito said.

The Giants received what observers considered a significant break when Kershaw's right hip injury forced the Dodgers to replace him with right-hander Joe Blanton. Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, was 7-3 with a 1.21 ERA in his previous 11 outings against San Francisco.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the game," Bochy said. "We haven't done a lot with him."

"It definitely affected me," Zito said. "I didn't want to face him [as a hitter]."

But players knew that they couldn't simply go through the motions against Blanton.

"Get ready for a righty," right fielder Hunter Pence said, articulating his thoughts when he learned of the switch. "I knew he was probably going to come in with some fastballs. He has a good cutter and a slider. That's what I was getting ready for."

In fact, Pence lined a 1-0 fastball from Blanton to left field for a two-run double that opened the scoring in the first inning. The Giants widened their lead as Angel Pagan tripled with one out in the fifth and scored on Marco Scutaro's sacrifice fly.

Posey led off San Francisco's sixth inning with his 20th homer of the season, a drive to straightaway center field. It completed another balanced performance by San Francisco's catcher, who steered Zito and five relievers through the Dodgers' batting order.

"I can't think of a guy more valuable to his team than Buster is for us," Bochy said.

Posey deflected talk of personal glory by saying, "We're trying to win the division and get in the playoffs. That's the main goal."

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