MILWAUKEE – There is a basic statistical concept called regression to the mean. Barry Zito gave it fangs and a temper Tuesday night at Miller Park.
Zito’s celebrated deeds from last October cannot, should not and will not be erased because of one bad start in mid-April. But his perfect 0.00 ERA got taken out for a good spanking in his third assignment of 2013.
In a park that has shown Zito no good cheer, the Milwaukee Brewers filled their liter steins to the brim in an eight-run third inning that ranked as the biggest of the left-hander’s career. He was charged with nine earned runs in a 10-8 loss – matching the most he’s allowed in 397 career starts.
And yes, despite their persistent efforts to rally, the stage went dark on the Giants’ long-running streak of victories in Zito starts. It ended at 16, when you include his three postseason outings.
The team lost on Zito’s day for the first time since Aug. 2 against the Mets.
Starting pitching report
Zito recorded four outs before Carlos Gomez smacked the fair pole with a solo home run, ending the left-hander’s streak at 15 2/3 scoreless innings to begin the season. It was the longest by a Giants starting pitcher in the San Francisco era, better than Ryan Jensen’s 14 1/3 innings in 2002.
It looked as if Zito might escape in the third after the Brewers loaded the bases with no outs on pitcher Wily Peralta’s single, a hit batter and an infield hit. Zito managed to strike out Ryan Braun with a gutsy, 3-2 cutter, and the rest of Milwaukee’s lineup hasn’t exactly posed a threat this season.
But Zito’s day disintegrated from there. Rickie Weeks hit a ground-rule double, and Jonathan Lucroy’s tiebreaking, two run hit was the first of three consecutive singles. That loaded the bases for Yuniesky Betancourt, who sent Bernie Brewer down the slide with a grand slam.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy clearly wanted to coax Zito through the inning, especially since the club was down a reliever with Jeremy Affeldt headed to the disabled list and Jean Machi en route from the West Coast. But after Zito issued a two-out walk to Norichika Aoki, Bochy had to come out for the baseball.
Zito jogged off the field, and at least Chad Gaudin stranded his runner to prevent a 10th earned run from hitting the ledger. Zito ended the day with a 4.86 ERA.
He had allowed nine runs just two other times in his career – July 12, 2009 vs. the Padres and April 23, 2004 for the A’s vs. the Angels at Oakland.
It didn’t impact the final outcome, but the relievers performed well and gave the Giants a chance to rally. Gaudin, Jose Mijares and George Kontos combined to allow just one run over 5 1/3 innings, and that came when Norichika Aoki hit a home run in the eighth.
The relievers didn’t issue a walk, either.
One more observation: Gaudin has a pretty good swing for a guy who’s 1 for 41 in his career as a hitter. You’ve gotta respect him for not wearing batting gloves, too.
At the plate
The Giants and Brewers combined for 18 runs on 24 hits, yet Ryan Braun and Buster Posey combined to go just 1 for 9 with a walk, one run and no RBI.
Braun was 0 for 5 with four strikeouts – the first golden sombrero of his career. It might have been even more surprising to see an unproductive game from Posey, who thrives at Miller Park. He entered 12 for 24 with six home runs and 15 RBI in seven career games.
But Posey had another quiet night in the middle of the Giants lineup, striking out to strand the tying runs on base in the sixth and not collecting a hit until a double to start the ninth.
It was Pablo Sandoval who did most of the damage, driving in four runs on a double, a single and a sacrifice fly. Sandoval extended his hitting streak to nine games and so did Brandon Crawford, who singled in the third and hit a solo home run in the fourth. Crawford has reached base in 12 consecutive games, too.
Crawford’s homer was the second of his career at Miller Park, where he also hit a grand slam for his memorable first big league hit in 2011 – two days after Buster Posey sustained his ankle injury in a home-plate collision.
Crawford owns as many career homers at Miller Park as he does at AT&T Park (and Coors Field, too).
Nick Noonan hits everywhere. He had another pinch single, making the wunderkind 7 for 13 to start his career. He scored on Sandoval’s sacrifice fly in the sixth.
The Giants made more hard contact than the Brewers, but had less to show for it even though they scored in five of the last seven innings.
Gregor Blanco and Brandon Belt easily could’ve combined for eight hits in their first eight plate appearances. Blanco stung two lineouts to right field and Belt, in an impressive, 10-pitch plate appearance, had to settle for a sacrifice fly in the fifth when Braun made a leaping catch of his drive with the bases loaded.
Belt did finish with his first three-hit game of the season, and he singled home Posey in the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate. But Blanco popped up and pinch hitter Andres Torres narrowly missed a tying, two-run home run while flying out to the track in right-center to end the game.
Yes, Yuniesky Betancourt really started at first base for the Brewers. And he turned into a major asset with the glove – especially when he started a 3-6-3 double play on Blanco’s hard grounder in the fourth. Betancourt also took a hit away from Marco Scutaro in the first inning.
And Noonan might have learned something in the sixth, when Braun deked him into holding at third base by pretending to have a play on Scutaro’s single down the line.
The Brewers announced 29,075, and bless him, the large, semi-renowned fan who wears a too-tight Rally Banana suit was among them.
The Giants and Brewers continue their series at Miller Park on Wednesday, and bless that retractable roof, because heavy rain is in the forecast. Ryan Vogelsong (1-1. 7.15) is scheduled to take the mound against former Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse (0-1, 2.08), whom the Giants will face for the first time since defeating him in Game 7 of the NLCS last October.