SAN FRANCISCO Barry Zitos face was flushed and his eyeswere beginning to mist up, and it had little to do with the Mumm and Bud Lightbeing sprayed around him.
Itd be special, man, said Zito, asked about perhaps taking theball for Game 1 of the World Series in a Giants uniform. It would be such ahuge honor to do that, especially against a guy on (Justin) Verlanders level,a guy who was MVP of the league last year.
The Giants havent announced a starting pitcher yet. Theyllhave to select the first two starters from a pool that includes Zito, TimLincecum and Madison Bumgarner. But word around the team is that Zito deservesthe honor, and the expectation is that it will be accorded to him after his 723 scoreless innings in Game 5 at Busch Stadium provided the turning point inthis NLCS.
Its an honor that would come with heaps of meaning forZito, who was left off all three postseason rosters in 2010 and has spent sixseasons trying to prove that he could be the kind of front-of-the-rotation pitcher as a Giantthat he was over seven seasons with the As.
Thats why it was so devastating to him when he couldntescape the third inning in Game 4 at Cincinnati in the NLDS before Lincecumbailed him out in relief.
Ive been working so hard and I just wanted to show the guys,prove to the guys, that I could perform in the postseason, Zito said. Thatfirst start, I was so amped up and rushing, it didnt turn out the way Iwanted. So to have another opportunity to help my team, I looked at that as ablessing.
This game is all about momentum. Baseball, it kind ofinches its way pitch by pitch. Its different than any other game. Going outthere for Game 5 in St. Louis, I knew theres a chance if we got to San Francisco, themomentum would change. Weve got the best, the loudest fans. Thats whathappened.
And what if he gets a shot to carry over that momentum bythrowing the first pitch of a World Series a stage that the As never reachedin his five trips to the postseason with them?
Its funny, there are almost two halves to how I feel aboutthat, Zito said. I would be so excited for the opportunity, and on the otherhand, you have to stop and say, Whoa, Ive got to make some pitches here.Those are some great hitters 60 feet away and Ive got to bear down.
Zito has some good memories to draw upon. His interleaguestart at Detroit on July 2 of last year stood out for several reasons: It washis first outing back from his first career stay on the disabled list afterspraining his ankle in April. He made that start on just three days of rest, after manager Bruce Bochy asked himif he could take the ball because the team was short a rested pitcher after playing adoubleheader in Chicago earlier in the week.
Not only that, but Zito waited out a delay of almost three hours as apurple-tinged thunderstorm disrupted play in the third inning. Incredibly, Zitocame back and tossed four more shutout innings, ending the day with six inall.
He did it at a time when many viewed him as a sunk cost, anafterthought or both.
I wanted to pitch, man, he said that day. I agreed topitch on three days of rest and I wanted to keep up that agreement.
A year later, Zito looks back on the statement he made thatstormy night in Detroit and he smiles.
That was one of the highlights of my career, he said. By now,Ive thrown on short rest, on long rest, Ive pretty much seen every aspect ofthe game in my career. To have this happen now is just so sweet, and it means so muchmore than anything Ive ever done.
The Giants havent faced a Verlander-level pitcher this postseason, all due respect to Homer Bailey. And yikes, if the Tigers use Anibal Sanchez in Game 2 hesonly 3-0 with a 0.36 ERA in three career starts at AT&T Park. The Tigers,like the Reds and Cardinals, feature all right-handed starters, too. So it won't be easy for their hitters by any stretch.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE ENEMY: Detroit Tigers
But in terms of lineup, the Tigers actually represent abetter matchup for the Giants on a few levels. Unlike the Reds and especiallythe Cards, who mashed left-handers all season, the Tigers were just 26-25against left-handed starters compared to 62-49 against right-handers. They hit22 points higher against right-handers, too (.275 to .253). So Bochy might be able to make better use of some of his left-handed weapons in the bullpen.
I dont have a true read on how Madison Bumgarners sidesessions have gone over the past week, but if the Giants are at all hopefulthat hes found something in his mechanics to help him with location and finishon his pitches, then theyd have to consider him for a Game 2 start and keepLincecum in the swingman role, where hes been so valuable.
Hunter Pence needed someone to make him a sign and pin it tohis gray sweatshirt. NO, I HAVEN'T SEEN A REPLAY YET."
One swarm of reporters after another approached him in thepostgame clubhouse, asking if hed seen the slow-mo of histriple-contact hit on the Joe Kelly pitch that broke his bat in the thirdinning.
Did he realize the ball hit his bat three times?
I didnt feel that, Pence said. I just felt it break mybat. Weird. I get a lot of weird broken-bat hits. That ones up there.
I mean, could you see it? Try to watch that with the nakedeye and tell me if you see that. I dont think you can.
Pence said he had just talked with special assistant WillClark in the dugout about how good hitters dont get jammed. He said hed beready for something inside and that hed try to stay inside the ball.
Ive never hit a ball like that, Clark said with a laugh.Ive never seen a ball hit like that. Thats the beauty of baseball. Thebaseball gods were shining on the Giants tonight.
Shining through a rainstorm.
Brandon Belt was ready for an inside pitch, too. That homerun he hit off a 98-mph fastball from Mitchell Boggs in the eighth might havecome with the score already lopsided, but it carried almost as much importanceas a tiebreaking shot to Belt.
Thank goodness, said Belt, who avoided champagne spraywith a serious ski visor that looked military-issue. They pitched me in thewhole time and I finally got my bat to a ball.
Clark, J.T. Snow and hitting coach Hensley Meulens alsooffered a tip to Pablo Sandoval, who moved up on the plate a little bit. Thatshow Sandoval was able to get the barrel to Kyle Lohses outside pitch and riflea double that set up the Giants huge, five-run rally in the third inning.
He got the pitch he wanted, said Clark, and he whackedthe dog meat out of it.
Sandoval improved to 10 for 25 in the Giants sixelimination games, by the way.
Neither Matt Cain nor Matt Holliday had much to say aboutthe pitch that found meaty upper arm in the sixth inning.
But that was not an 0-2 mistake. You can be clear about thatmuch.
You dont find many players more gracious than Pence.
Our side isnt the only story, he said. These are twogreat teams that deserved to go on. It just seemed like tonight was our night.
Its easy to forget that the Cardinals had won sixconsecutive elimination games over the past two seasons. Now their titledefense is over, and Carlos Beltran still hasnt made it to a World Series.
Anybody else think Andy Dufresne when Marco Scutaro wasdrinking in the rain during the ninth inning?
It might be time to take Brian Wilson seriously.
Three months ago, he cavorted through the clubhouse andpredicted the Giants would win it all in Game 6 of the World Series, on Oct. 31at AT&T Park.
I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if hes sticking withthat call.
Pshhh, of course, he said. Halloween night. Get on board,already!