SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Barry Zito came through in one of the most important outings in his San Francisco tenure, pitching the NL West-leading Giants past the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0 on Sunday night to extend their division lead to 5½ games.
Hunter Pence hit a two-run double in the first inning that held up and Buster Posey homered in San Francisco’s fifth win in the last six meetings of the rivalry.
Marco Scutaro added a sacrifice fly to back an impressive performance by Zito (11-8), who drew loud cheers all night from the orange flag-waving sellout crowd of 41,517. Zito, left off the postseason roster for all three rounds during the team’s 2010 World Series title run, also established a season high for wins since joining the Giants on a $126 million, seven-year contract before the 2007 season.
Los Angeles (74-67) dropped 1½ games back of St. Louis for the second NL wild card with a crucial four-game set against the Cardinals starting Thursday at Dodger Stadium. Atlanta leads the wild card by 5½ games.
San Francisco earned its NL-leading 13th shutout and fourth against the Dodgers. The Giants swept Los Angeles at AT&T Park from June 25-27 by scores of 8-0, 2-0 and 3-0. Zito and five relievers combined on Sunday’s five-hit shutout.
The Dodgers scratched reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw a few hours before first pitch because of an inflamed right hip that required a cortisone shot Saturday.
Kershaw wasn’t happy with the decision by manager Don Mattingly, saying, “I would have loved to pitch today.” The lefty (12-7) is now scheduled to start Tuesday at Arizona following an off day for the club Monday.
Posey’s career-best 20th home run came in a 10-pitch at-bat against Joe Blanton (1-4) to start the sixth. Posey — the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year who missed most of ‘11 with a serious leg and ankle injury — has two such 10-pitch at-bats for home runs in his career, both this season.
Blanton (1-4) was told Saturday there was a “50-50 chance” he might be called upon to start in Kershaw’s place. He needed 36 pitches to get out of the first, giving up as many runs that inning as Kershaw did total in any of his four starts facing San Francisco this year.
Angel Pagan matched his career high with an 11th triple, leaving him one shy of the San Francisco record. Hall of Famer Willie Mays hit 12 in 1960 and Steve Finley did so in 2006.
The Giants have all the momentum in the West — and hope to leave little to chance in the season’s final week, when they end the year with three games at Dodger Stadium from Oct. 1-3.
Los Angeles is searching for timely hits after going 1 for 23 (.043) with runners in scoring position in the series.
Pitching to chants of “Zito! Zito!”, the left-hander worked into the seventh inning and gave the Giants only their second home series win since being swept at home by the Dodgers on July 29.
Zito allowed four hits in 6 1-3 scoreless innings to win his third straight decision. But it was just his third victory over the last seven starts and followed a pair of no-decisions by the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner.
Zito left to a standing ovation when he gave way to Santiago Casilla with one out in the seventh and runners on first and second following a walk to A.J. Ellis. The pitcher raised his glove to acknowledge the fans.
Casilla entered and retired pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu on a called third strike, then walked Mark Ellis before Shane Victorino left the bases loaded with a flyball to left.
Zito allowed a leadoff double to Mark Ellis to start the game but escaped unscathed — a big deal for a guy who is 10-3 this season when pitching a scoreless first inning and 1-5 when allowing a run.
Then, he got a quick lead in the bottom half.
Pagan singled then Pablo Sandoval walked one out later. A day after facing four total pitches in a 1-for-4 performance, Sandoval drew seven-pitch free pass. Posey struck out looking before Pence’s double.
San Francisco has won Zito’s last seven outings since an Aug. 2 loss to the New York Mets. The Giants improved to 8-7 in deciding games of a series, but had dropped six of the last eight.
Notes: Zito is 10-1 this year when receiving four or more runs of support. ... The Dodgers are 28-33 vs. the NL West to the Giants’ 30-20 against the division. ... Zito is 5-2 against the NL West this season. ... Ryan Vogelsong (12-7) pitches for the Giants on Monday at Colorado trying to improve on his 5-0 mark with a 1.80 ERA in six previous starts vs. the Rockies. ... Los Angeles INF Adam Kennedy expects to miss the rest of the season with a strained right groin he hurt Friday night. “It’s pretty bad,” he said.