I’m a huge Barry Zito fan. Loved him on the A’s (even bought a t-shirt). Loved the surfing and the guitar playing and the yoga weirdness and the stoner/zen proclamations. Mostly, I loved the curveball and the way he got swings and misses and that he was different. Randy Johnson was the premier left-hander of the day and the way he and Zito got batters out was very, very different.
In 2006, before hitting free-agency Zito made two playoff starts. In his first start he was masterful against the Minnesota Twins and beat another dominant lefty: Johan Santana. He fell apart against the Tigers (yep, those Tigers again), but the picture in my mind was of his triumphant defeat of the Twins.
I was excited when the Giants signed Zito (and bought another t-shirt), even if I hated the contract. Zito, Cain, Lowry. The Big Three. A new chapter of Giants’ baseball built around pitching.
And then it all went to hell. As it got worse and worse, the thing I kept hoping for, longing for, was a chance for Zito to do something important in the playoffs. If he could just contribute to a deep playoff run all would be forgiven.
Then 2010 happened and lo, it was awesome, but Zito’s big contribution was his non-contribution. So, yes, the Giants had won the long sought after Championship during the Zito era, but it was in spite of his presence.
Which makes 2012 all the more sweet. Zito, as has been noted, is not that much different of a pitcher this year than in any other year. He’s been healthy all year, he’s made all his starts, and he’s received better run support, but this could be 2008, or even 2010.
And yet, there is something different about him. A confidence that comes from long-suffering.
I was always a bit of a head case in my short baseball career and so I think that in some way I “get” Zito. I know that helpless feeling of doing everything right but still not having any idea where the ball is going. Pitching is so much between the ears, and thoughtful men don’t often make great pitchers.
And so, I honestly have never been more proud of a professional athlete in my life. Zito will never live up to, or live down, the contract but that’s pretty much irrelevant at this point. This is a man who made it to the top, who fell hard, who has suffered, and who has been resurrected.
Sounds dramatic, for sure, but it’s just true.
And here’s the crazy thing. Zito will be back next year (barring trade) to play out the last year of his ludicrous contract. There is an option for 2014, but here’s what I think will happen: if he proves to be serviceable again I can see the team working out a 3 yr/27 mil type deal to keep him around as the 4th/5th starter. At that point Lincecum and Vogelsong could be gone. There’s not much in the system to fill out the rotation. The team will need a reliable, cost-effective veteran type guy to fill out the Five.
A decade of Zito. Incredible.
A lot has been/will be made about Pablo Sandoval hitting 12 home runs all year and then 6 (hopefully more) in the post-season, as if it were some kind of fluke. This is not unprecedented (see BJ Upton in 2008).
Sandoval is a really good hitter. He’s been hampered by weight issues, by hamate bones, and by hamstrings, but in 2009 if you had told me the Giants would be enjoying this kind of success, the only way it would make sense was if Pablo was at the center of it.
Before Posey, he was the great hope of the offense.
Now, I, nor anyone else, expects him to hit three home runs in Game 1, but this is not like Gregor Blanco hitting 3 home runs, or Brandon Crawford going off, this is a very, very good hitter who’s been going well since game 3 of the Reds series getting hot at the right time.
Melky gets a lot of love for “winning” the All-Star game for the NL, but it was Pablo who hit a triple off Justin Verlander to blow open the lead in the first inning. He was 10 feet from hitting a home run. In his three at-bats against Verlander in 2012 he hit a near home run triple, a home run to deep center, and an oppostite field home run. Incredible.
Which leads to this beautiful image:
Game 2 thoughts: I think Madison Bumgarner will pitch well. Game 1 was great, and it sure helps the Giants keep the momentum and confidence going, but the other Tiger pitchers are also pretty good. I have a feeling this will be a more typical Giants affair, a 3-2 sort of ballgame.
Also, Posey will hit a home run tonight.