SAN FRANCISCO — The World Series trophy appeared out of an entrance in center field in the arms of Giants manager Bruce Bochy. The orange championship banner arrived by fire boat, and players paraded around with it on the field and through the stands before taking turns pulling it up the flag pole in right-center field for all of San Francisco to see.
Even with all the festivities, the St. Louis Cardinals needed no painful pregame reminders of last October’s disappointment — the lefty on the mound provided every last bit of it.
Barry Zito tossed seven scoreless innings to send the Cardinals to a 1-0 loss in the Giants’ home opener Friday, 5½ months after saving San Francisco’s season in a brilliant performance in Game 5 of the NL championship series.
“Sometimes it’s a pain when you watch all the guys and we were so close to winning,” said Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, whose fielding error in the fourth helped lead to San Francisco’s only run. “But at the same time, it’s motivating because you want to be in that position next year.”
The slow-throwing Zito outdueled Jake Westbrook in his season debut. The lefty’s sacrifice bunt — when Molina bobbled and dropped the ball — set the stage for San Francisco’s run in the fourth, when Angel Pagan drew a bases-loaded walk.
Westbrook, still two wins shy of 100, matched his career high with six walks and struck out one in 6 2-3 innings. Allen Craig had two of the Cardinals’ three hits.
“Six walks is a lot. But really only worried about one of them — the one that allowed the run to score,” Westbrook said. “But me fighting my delivery the way I was, to only give up one run is pretty good. You can’t really expect to win a ballgame walking six guys. I need to do a better job.”
The Giants won their 15th straight with Zito on the mound, including the postseason. He hasn’t lost since Aug. 2 against the New York Mets, and he has been at his best against the Cardinals.
Zito blanked the Cardinals on three hits through the seventh. He also had a perfectly executed bunt single to drive in a run during that 5-0 Game 5 NLCS win in St. Louis that helped San Francisco return to AT&T Park and take Games 6 and 7 en route to a World Series sweep over Detroit.
“Extremely similar,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Zito. “He makes pitches. We love in our organization seeing the radar gun light up because there’s more room for error. But we know the value of pitching. Pitching is breaking up the hitter’s timing, and he kept them out of timing by mixing up speeds, mixing up arm angles and location. That’s the art of pitching.”
Facing renewed criticism for his girth, World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval made several nice stops at third and also ran down a foul popup to back Zito.
Jeremy Affeldt pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Sergio Romo closed out the three-hitter with a clean ninth for his third save.
The last time the Giants won 14 or more consecutive starts by a pitcher was Carl Hubbell’s 16 straight from July 17-Sept. 30, 1936, according to STATS.
After the 45-minute pregame ceremony, it was Zito’s turn to shine again. By the time he was done with the 102-pitch gem, he walked off to chants of “Barry! Barry!”
He allowed Jon Jay’s leadoff single, then Carlos Beltran hit a hard grounder that Sandoval stopped to begin a double play — one of two turned by San Francisco.
Zito added a hit, too. He singled down the left-field line in his first at-bat to lead off the third.
Zito hopes to build on the 15-8 record last season that was his best since the former AL Cy Young award winner joined San Francisco on a $126 million, seven-year contract before the 2007 season.
“I’m grateful,” he said. “It was such a blessing. We’re not taking anything for granted.”
The two clubs have captured the past three World Series championships — the Giants in 2010 and last year, the Cardinals in ‘11.
Westbrook walked Gregor Blanco with one out in the fourth and allowed Brandon Crawford’s single before Zito produced another timely bunt. He sacrificed and reached on Molina’s fielding error to load the bases with one out. Westbrook walked Pagan for the run.
Brandon Belt returned to the Giants’ lineup at first base after missing the final two games at Los Angeles with a stomach bug. Bochy went with the exact same lineup as Game 5 of the NLCS against the Cardinals.
On a day the Queen classic “We Are the Champions” blared through a near-empty ballpark as pregame warm-ups began, San Francisco started off a six-game homestand.
It will be a weekend of fanfare for the Giants. On Saturday, the team will honor NL MVP and batting champion Buster Posey before the game with other former San Francisco MVPs, and Sunday will be the ring ceremony.
For Matheny, a former Giants catcher himself, San Francisco’s Game 7 clinching party in a downpour is still plenty fresh.
“They’re not out there trying to please us,” he said. “They’re trying to support the millions of people that supported this team last year and honor them.”
NOTES: A moment of silence was held before the national anthem for late Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial and victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. ... San Francisco sold out its 166th straight regular-season game dating to Oct. 1, 2010. ... The Giants send Ryan Vogelsong to the mound Saturday against Shelby Miller.