published Friday, August 24th, 2012

Zito, Sanchez lead Giants over Braves

Atlanta Braves Martin Prado, left, greets Chipper Jones at the plate after scoring against the San Francisco Giants' during the ninth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012
Atlanta Braves Martin Prado, left, greets Chipper Jones at the plate after scoring against the San Francisco Giants' during the ninth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Zito took a three-hit shutout into the ninth inning, Hector Sanchez’s two-run double highlighted a four-run fifth and the San Francisco Giants rolled past the Atlanta Braves 5-2 on Thursday night for their fourth straight win.

Fresh off a sweep at the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, the National League West leaders stayed hot on a chilly and fog-filled night along the bay. Zito (10-8) allowed five hits, struck out five and walked three before Freddie Freeman’s two-run double off reliever Jeremy Affeldt broke up the shutout.

With two runners on, Sergio Romo got pinch-hitters Jason Heyward and Juan Francisco to ground out for his sixth save.

Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval drove in runs to chase Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson (12-6) after 4 1/3 innings. Hanson gave up five hits and five runs while striking out four and walking three.

San Francisco has won nine of 12 to take a three-game lead over the Dodgers in the division.

Angel Pagan extended his hitting streak to seven games with a single in the first inning. He walked in the third, stole his 21st base and slid home on Sandoval’s two-out blooper to left to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.

Pagan also walked leading off the fifth and Marco Scutaro singled to put runners on the corners. After Sandoval struck out, Pence bunted for an RBI single past Hanson to spark San Francisco’s surge.

Belt’s hard grounder skipped off Freeman’s glove at first for a two-base error, and Sanchez followed with a two-run double to push the Giants ahead 5-0.

More than enough for Zito on this night.

The high-priced lefty, often the sore in San Francisco’s rotation, had hitters chasing his slow-moving breaking balls all over the strike zone — and out of it, too. Zito also helped himself by fielding Hanson’s comebacker cleanly with two runners on in the second and picking off Dan Uggla at first base in the fourth.

Fans chanted “Barry! Barry! Barry!” when he was announced at the plate with one out in the eighth. After Zito dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move Brandon Crawford to second, the crowd gave him a standing ovation jogging back to the dugout.

Martin Prado and Chipper Jones singled leading off the ninth to dash Zito’s shot at a complete game. Freeman hit a two-run double off Affeldt for Atlanta’s only runs, and Uggla walked. Javier Lopez — San Francisco’s third lefty — struck out Brian McCann before Romo, a righty, came on to end it.

Zito, the 2002 American League Cy Young Award winner with Oakland, last pitched a complete game in his first start of the season at Colorado on April 8, when he allowed four hits in a 7-0 win.

The Giants honored retiring Braves third baseman Chipper Jones with a video montage before the game. He received a standing ovation from fans and tipped his hat to the crowd from the dugout’s top step.

The Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong (10-7, 2.85 ERA) starts opposite Ben Sheets (4-3, 3.07) in a pitching matchup of right-handers tonight.

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