Barry Zito, the suddenly now relevant lefty, will pitch Game 1 for the San Francisco Giants tomorrow night. Manager Bruce Bochy opted with Zito, who turned that abysmal contract and in turn his career around this year. Alex Rodriguez should take note.
Zito’s outing in a 5-0 victory on Friday night in Game 5 of the NL championship series at Busch Stadium was down right stellar. He helped San Francisco rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. His fastball may have lost speed, but it was Zito’s crafty performance that allowed the Giants to return to the World Series for the second time in three years.
Left off the postseason roster for all three rounds in 2010, Zito made a conscious decision to find his way by just plain having fun again. He just started forgetting the bad starts and moving on to the next. Whatever he did to change his mental approach, it has certainly paid off. Zito is the pitcher du jour.
It doesn’t hurt he now has four pitches to baffle batters, aside from just his nasty curveball that defined his career back in the early days of the Big Three. “It’s hard to sum it up in one answer,” Zito said to the Associated Press (AP) after beating the Cardinals. “It’s just a plethora of things that I’ve done and gone through here with the Giants. But the most important thing was to come out and give everything I’ve got.”
The Giants have won Zito’s last 13 starts. Psychologically, if you have to go up against the best pitcher in baseball (Justin Verlander), you would put Zito up first as well. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland went 15-8 for his most wins since joining the Giants on a $126 million, seven-year contract before the 2007 season.
“He’s been through a lot, obviously. He took the beatings,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said in the AP of Zito. “He’s always been a stand-up guy, he’s never stopped working. In his own way he’s never stopped believing and he’s made changes. He’s made changes when he had to. I actually don’t think other than when he first came here that he was supposed to be the lead dog in the staff as it turned out the young guys were so good so fast. You look back in Oakland he was just one of the group. I don’t think the money ever bothered him.”
“In this game sometimes we forget at times what we’re all capable of, and I think those are the times when we struggle a little bit,” Zito said. Zito won his last five regular-season starts and seven decisions of the regular season since a loss Aug. 2 to the Mets.
He has tweaked his delivery, added a cut fastball and learned to make adjustments right away when things go wrong. “I think Barry really deserves most of the credit along with Dave Righetti, with them working together,” Bochy said to the AP. “Sometimes in this game you’ve got to make changes, adjustments, that’s what the game is about. And Barry’s done that. He’s a little different than what he was when he won the Cy Young. Maybe he doesn’t have that same velocity. So he’s had to I think change his style of pitching a little bit. And he’s come up with the cutter. And I think he’s pitching down more than he used to.”