San Francisco Giants 4, St. Louis Cardinals 2: Barry Zito continues to be full of surprises

BOX SCORE

MONDAY BOX SCORE: St. Louis Cardinals 8, San Francisco Giants 2

There’s only one thing wrong with having Barry Zito follow Main Cain in the rotation.

When the Giants lose in a game started by Cain, they get Zito the next day.

Recently, that’s been happening more and more. It led to back-to-back losses to the Dodgers and then the Mets.

So optimism was not running high when the Giants took on the Cardinals Tuesday after Cain got knocked around by the Redbirds on Monday.

And then Zito did something he’s done a couple of times this season. He surprised us.

Just like he did in his first start of the season when he shut out the Rockies after a horrendous spring training.

Then came three consecutive losses to the Rangers, Astros and Angels in June, which was followed by seven shutout innings vs. the Dodgers.

He got whacked around pretty good by the Pirates in his final start before the All-Star Break. Then in his first post-break start, held the Braves scoreless for seven innings.

His most recent ugly streak included giving up 14 runs in 16.2 innings in his three most recent starts.

So what does he do Tuesday, limits the Cardinals to two runs — both on solo home runs by Allen Craig — on eight hits and NO WALKS over 6.2 innings.

He made Buster Posey’s three-run home run in the first inning stand up.

The victory was big because it allowed the Giants to lengthen their lead in the NL West over the Dodgers for the first time in a week. It’s the first time since before Zito’s ugly start agains the Dodgers on July 28 that the Giants’ lead was greater than one game.

It’s also a big win because it kept the hope of leaving St. Louis with at least a split of the four-game series more within reach. If the Giants do that, they will head home Friday guaranteed of remaining in first place.

It’s important to note because these games in St. Louis will be the Giants’ last road games against a non-divisional opponent with a winning record.

After this road trip, the Giants will have just 13 games against non-divisional foes — three at home vs. the Nationals, four at home vs. the Braves, three at Houston and three at Chicago.

Starting this weekend, the Dodgers embark on a 10-game road trip: three at Miami, four at Pittsburgh and three at Atlanta. And they still have three-game road series at Washington and Cincinnati later in September.

Oh, and the Cardinals travel to LA for a four-game set in mid-September to boot.

Starting Labor Day, the Giants will play entirely within the NL West.

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