DENVER Barry Zito hadnt thrown a shutout since April 18,2003, against the Texas Rangers at the venue then called Network AssociatesColiseum.
He was hazy on the rest of the particulars.
Uhhmm, it was against Texas, I think, Zito said. I dontremember if it was at home.
OK, well I just remember the team, he said. Thatsall.
I approached him later and asked if he could remember whocaught him that day.
Ramon Hernandez? Zito said.
Circle gets a square. Right you are. The same Ramon Hernandez,in fact, who batted seventh Colorados lineup on Monday, when Zito beat theRockies 7-0 and became the first Giant to throw a shutout in 18 years ofbaseball at Coors Field.
Hernandez hit two outs in the air and doubled. He was one oftwo Rockies to reach second base. Nobody reached third.
Like Zito, Hernandez could conjure no memories of thesix-hitter the left-hander threw against the Rangers. Hernandez didnt remember that he backed Zitowith a home run that night, either.
But he had plenty of memories of what Zito looked like whenhe found a groove. And he said Mondays game was very similar.
Hell pitch different every time you face him, and that iswhy I liked catching him, Hernandez said. He would see you another time andyou wouldnt see the same pitches. Thats what he did today. It was one ofthose days where he pitched a great game. Nothing you can do about it.
He always was able to throw three pitches for strikes. Backthen, he was throwing 90, 91. Thats the only difference I see.
I quoted Hernandez a little more in my game story on Zitosstart. Hernandez made the point that even when Zito fell behind in the count, he wasable to get called strikes with his curveball and changeup. Zito also said hehas to be realistic that his fastball will get hit even when hes hitting spotswith it, so the key is to keep hitters off-balance and not able to narrow downthe pitch theyll get next.
The key, of course, is location. If Zito doesnt throwstrikes with his offspeed stuff, and keep those strikes in the lower portion ofthe zone, then hell have a hit me sign where his No.75 should be just ashe did in spring training.
Its important to remember that Monday's shutout was just one start and Zito does not have the track record ofa Greg Maddux. Even in his best days with Oakland, he was among the leagueleaders in walks. He absolutely must execute every pitch to be successful.You enjoy a certain margin for error when you throw 96 mph and your mistakesmight get fouled back to the screen. Zito has no such margin.
But for now, he did what hes spent six years longing to do:He entered a situation where the Giants were counting on him. And he didnt letthem down.
Shocked me, too. Coors Field is in its 18th season. Only Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field are older in the National League.
I think its fair to say that the pairing of Zito and HectorSanchez is about more than finding a convenient day to give Buster Posey a restbehind the plate. Zito and Sanchez clearly have a very good rapport.
This is not the first Zito complete game that Sanchez hascaught, either. They worked together on one at Triple-A Fresno, where Zito was beingstashed on a long rehab assignment.
When Zito was asked what it felt like to shake hands at theend of the game, he referenced that start at Fresno and how new it felt.
But today, I just tried to stay pitch to pitch andeventually the innings over, and eventually the games over, Zito said. Youdont want to try to go out there and pitch a shutout. Because its pretty muchimpossible to get outs unless youre trying to make your pitch.
Sanchez had the right temperament to keep Zito in Zen mode.
He just has a good feel, Zito said. Hes not scared, youknow? Hes not scared to go out there and call a pitch that may not be a normalpitch in a situation. If things get under pressure out there, hes just alwaysmellow and relaxed. He has a lot of poise at that position for his age.
Sanchez also contributed with the bat. After raking allspring, he posted his first career multi-hit game. Until he singled offreliever Matt Reynolds, the Giants were 0 for 19 as a team against left-handedpitching this season.
During batting practice, Giants manager Bruce Bochy made anexcellent point that hadnt occurred to me: One benefit of carrying Sanchezover Chris Stewart or Eli Whiteside is that on days the backup starts, theGiants wouldnt need to pinch hit for him. That allows Posey to take a full dayoff from behind the plate instead of entering to work the late innings.
Bochy gave Sanchez a lot of credit for the way he handledZito.
The lefty went a bit further, saying, I dont think he getsenough credit as a catcher.
Nearly a decade from now, when Zito is asked what heremembers from his shutout at Coors Field, Im not sure he will recall thatTodd Helton made the last out or Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run homer.
But Im pretty sure hell remember who caught him.
Give credit to Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner, too. Im notsure too many pitching coaches could have maintained their patience,let alone their sanity, given all the outside voices that Zito allows into his head.
There have been times they have been at loggerheads, Imsure. That happens any time a coach and player have been around each other forsix years. But Zito was afforded two side sessions and a minor league campgame to find a way to be competitive basically enough time for a Quickfire onTop Chef and Righetti and Gardner helped him track down the loaves and fishes.
A list of all opponents to throw a shutout in 18 years at Coors Field:
Barry Zito, SF -- 2012
Roy Oswalt, HOU -- 2008
Andy Ashby, SD -- 1999
Dave Mlicki, LAD -- 1998
Pedro Martinez, MON -- 1997
Tom Glavine, ATL -- 1997
Hideo Nomo, LAD -- 1996 (no-hitter)
Pat Rapp, FLA -- 1995
Tom Glavine, ATL -- 1995
Time to update that stat: with four-plus runs of support,Zitos career record is 113-6, including 28-2 with the Giants.
Those are runs that scored while Zito was in the game, incase you were wondering.
Troy Tulowitzki is 6 for 41 lifetime against Zito. Thats a.146 average.
Aubrey Huff drew two walks Monday. Last season, he didnthave a two-walk game until May 12.
Thats a good sign, because when Huff stopped hitting lastyear, he also stopped walking. He had just seven two-walk games all lastseason. (In 2010, he had 18 two-walk games.) If hes seeing pitches and beingmore selective, he has a chance to be a better offensive performer this year.
Brandon Crawford had another very good at-bat against aleft-handed pitcher on his three-run double. Bochy keeps saying that Crawford will contribute more to the Giants offense than people think. Maybe soon they'll begin to listen.
If you missed it, Jon Millers daughter, Emilie, wrote awonderful tribute in the New York Times to her dad, to baseball and to a lifeuniquely steeped in the game.
The players are in the process of choosing their entrancemusic for AT&T Park in advance of Fridays home opener. Dan Otero issubmitting a rap song that one of his friends made, apparently. Lets hope theykeep it clean for the kids.
If you pay attention to such things, you might recall thatSergio Romos entrance music last year was All the Way Turnt Up by RoscoeDash. Well, Romo is proud of his Mexican-American heritage. So one day in SanDiego, after the team was eliminated, he told me that on the final home serieshed come out to some straight-up Banda music a fast-paced, brassy genre thatsounds like you mated polka and mariachi.
Romo likes to joke around, so I assumed he wasnt serious.
But on the last day of the season, Dan Runzler strained amuscle while pitching a mop-up inning. The Giants needed someone to finish.Romo got the call.
And El Mechon blasted in all its glorious cacophony from the speakers at AT&T Park.Im not sure I have ever laughed harder in the press box than at that moment.And as you probably know, when a pitcher leaves because of injury, the next guygets all the time he needs.
That was the best part, Romo said. They played the wholesong!
Theres an off day Tuesday, and I hear the spring skiing isstill decent up the mountain. But Im just grateful we dont have a foot of snow onthe ground here. As players stood on the chalk line, it was 66 degrees andsunny. On April 9. At Coors Field.
We all lucked out there.