Zito and his 'little fastball that could'

October 20, 2012, 4:32 am
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SAINT LOUIS -- Of all the things that made Barry Zitos best night ever as a Giant, the one thing nobody would ever have imagined the fastball was the best.

Understand first, though, that Zito has a fastball that at its best is mostly a cutter with attitude. In fact, when Bruce Bochy was asked in his office about how prominently Zitos fastball figured in the Giants 5-0 shutout win in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Brian Sabean and several of the teams scouts broke into laughter.

It is the kind of question that ought to draw that very reaction. And yet . . .

Truthfully, I usually go by the scoreboard gun, and so if its 82 or 83, its usually a cutter, pitching coach Dave Righetti said. But 84, 85, thats the fastball. So today, the plan was sort of to use the fastball more often, try to spot it, run it in to more of their right-handed hitters. We just sort of got away from his using his changeup so much, and having him go with more of the fastball, cutter and curveball. And today, he was doubling and tripling up on the fastball, and it worked.

In other words, the pitch that people mock the most ended up being Zitos best friend in the biggest game of his Giant career. Of course.

But there was something else. He didnt geek himself up for this start as he had in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. That start was Zito at his jumpy worst, so he downshifted into second. Which looks a lot like first to the layman.

In Cincinnati, he was running out to the mound, going a little too fast with everything, Righetti said. Today, he just had a different pace to everything he did. He walked out to the mound and walked back, he took everything at a slower pace and just stayed within himself. I think that helped him to keep from getting too amped up, and stay with the plan.

A plan that Zito and Righetti discussed, and catcher Buster Posey enforced, through seven and two-thirds innings of eye-opening work.

I was trying to be too fine, nitpicking, trying to hit corners, Zito said of the Cincinnati debacle that probably pushed his start back from Game 4 to Game 5. Today I wanted to try and put more pressure on the hitters to put the ball in play.

My fastball is set up by my off-speed stuff, so if I can command the fastball to both sides of the plate, and throw most of my off-speed pitches for strikes, I can get them to miss the barrel.

This is his standard postgame analysis, and he uses it with a different verb tense depending on how well he performed. Friday, he was pretty well future perfect.

Last time, we thought he wasnt aggressive enough using the fastball, manager Bruce Bochy said. This time . . .

And he leaned back in his chair, thinking of how much Zito had impressed him in 2010 at the low ebb of his career, and how he has refrained from the multi-millionaires bitching prerogative when not granted his due deference. Of all the moments Bochy has enjoyed in his time in San Francisco, this start will linger among the longest because he appreciates that Zitos 2010 was something he could use with Tim Lincecum this year, and may be able to use if needed on Madison Bumgarner as well.

I didnt think about taking him out after six or seven, he said. He was just throwing the ball too well. I didnt want to go get him when I finally did, but hed gone far enough. I cant say enough about what hes been through, how he handled it, and tonight, how he got us through.

And we havent even covered his RBI bunt single in the pivotal fourth inning, his first bunt hit as a pro.

But well leave that to Comrade Baggarly, as well as the Twitter hashtag fetish that introduced his day to the nation.

I tried Twitter a couple of years ago, he smiled when told how he had touched the Internetii. It was a pretty devastating experience for me.

So he quit, a sensible choice for a man whose years of well-compensated forbearance have finally been rewarded. And if all goes well in Games 6 and 7, will almost certainly be rewarded again with the most improbable setting yet.

With him starting Game 1 of the World Series at home against Justin Verlander. Him and the little fastball that could . . . after all these years.