It’s been a while since I’ve heard the name “Barry” being echoed throughout AT&T Park, but with the recent success of longtime Giant scapegoat Barry Zito, it’s the least the fans can do.
Zito is the Giants’ best pitcher right now. He has yet to surrender a run – an accomplishment even Sergio Romo was unable to hold.
Looking back at the first day Zito became a Giant, those words mean more to Giants fans now than they ever have. The dude can pitch.
He signed a 7-year $126 million contract before the 2007 season with the Giants after spending his first seven years in the big leagues across the bay in Oakland. He was the best pitcher in the free agent market at the time and Giants’ GM Brian Sabean swooped him up with a top-dollar offer.
The agony of that contract was realized when the Giants “ace” put up a losing record for the first time in his career (11-13) and a mediocre 4.53 ERA. He also was unable to pitch more than 200 innings for the first time since his rookie season in 2000.
Since the first disappointing season, fans have swayed from “He’ll be back to the old Zito” to “Why Sabean, why!?” for the last six years. His ERA with Oakland was an impressive 3.55, including a Cy Young award back in 2002.
His ERA as a Giant?
Nearly a run difference has been the dagger in the otherwise legendary man’s career.
I use “legendary” not in a Babe Ruth, Willie Mays kind of way, but in a way of respect. Zito has been boo’ed by his own fans more than Armando Benitez, Jeff Kent (post-Giants) and Eric Gagne combined.
He was even benched during the 2010 playoffs so rookie Madison Bumgarner and “Sir-Walks-A-Lot” Jonathan Sanchez could start. Did he complain, ask for a trade or pout about not being able to help his team win? No, he knew he didn’t deserve it.
I believe it takes a special man to battle like he has and as of now, he is winning the war.
So what has changed recently?
Well for starters, his curveball looks as good as it did in 2002 – still one of the best in the game. When his curveball is working, he is nearly un-hittable.
Since he cracked the playoff roster last year, he made use of all of his innings to prove what he can do on the big stage. With the world doubting he could pitch to the World’s best lineups, he delivered.
3 starts, 16 innings pitched, 16 hits, 6 walks, 13 strikeouts and a 1.69 ERA
Dating back to last season, the Giants are 16-0 in the last 16 Zito starts. They have outscored their opponents 100 (6.25 runs per game) to 45 (2.8 runs per game) in those games.
Zito is 11-0 in those starts.
Some of you may be questioning his ability to pitch this well all year long. Of course you are! You have every reason to be skeptical.
In the last three seasons his first two starts of the year have gone like this:
2010: 2-0, 12.0 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 6 K, 4 BB, 2.25 ERA
2011: 0-1, 11.1 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 7 K, 7 BB, 5.56 ERA
2012: 1-0, 16.0 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 8 K, 1 BB, 1.13 ERA
In 2010 and 2012, his total ERA by the end of the season was 4.15 – his best as a Giant outside of the 4.03 season in 2009.
This year is different.
The last two games Zito has pitched, the Giants have shut out their opponents, 10-0 and 1-0. He lasted seven innings in both contests and never surrendered more than eight base runners per game.
He has confidence in his pitches and challenges hitters with his fastball – something hitters used to drool over before they smacked a home run off of him.
His next start will be in Milwaukee against a Brewers team that has only hit five home runs this year and has only picked up two wins as of Friday. If Zito wants to prove he can win, another win versus the Brewers will have me convinced.
In the meantime, let’s sit back and watch Zito slowly rebuild his once amazing career – one curveball at a time.