DENVER Long after the handshakes and easy smiles on thefield Monday afternoon, after all the postgame commotion had died down and BarryZito had stepped away from his locker, pitching coach Dave Righetti quietlyshuffled over to that corner of the visiting clubhouse.
Clad in shower shoes and undershirt, Righetti carried thelineup card from the Giants 7-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies. Drawing noattention to himself, he quickly but carefully placed it in Zitos locker.
No further comment necessary.
Zito did more than rescue the Giants from falling to 0-4 forthe first time since 1950. He did more than redeem himself after a rottenspring that turned into batting practice by the hopeless end. He did more thanpitch a gem after Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain could not.
He made history, too. Against all the numbers a Vegassportsbook could crunch, Zito became the first Giant to throw a shutout in 18years of baseball at Coors Field.
Yes, this is the same pitcher who yielded 45 baserunners in19.1 innings this spring. This is the same beleaguered left-hander who was underorders to overhaul his approach in the span of two side sessions and just oneminor league camp game. This is the man the Giants stuck on the mound Mondaybecause they owe him 46 million and they had no other choice.
All of it considered, could Zito ever believe that pitching a four-hit shutout waspossible?
Yeah sure, he said, with a bit of a stammer. I mean,anythings possible.
This was the start that Zito always wanted after signing hisseven-year, 126 million contract. This was the chance he always hoped toseize. Back in 2010, in the second to last game of the regular season, he had an opportunity to clinch the NL West if he could beat the Padres. He issued two bases-loadedwalks in the first inning, was gone after three and was banished from theplayoff roster, a spectator for a World Series run.
But this time, he came through beyond anyones imagination. He did not jump for joy or offer a flurry of fist pumps afterTodd Helton grounded out to clinch his first shutout in six years as a Giant.He only smiled as he met rookie catcher Hector Sanchez on the grass for arelaxed hug. Aubrey Huff was next, with a crisp high-five and a more emphaticembrace.
Its no secret he gets buried by fans and the media,everything like that, so for all the haters out there, thats for them, Huffsaid. That was fun to watch. Ive never wanted to scoop a ball to end a gamemore in my life.
Were both at the end of our careers, guys in our mid-30s.We both want to see each other do well. To see him come out here and do what hedid, after an 0-3 start, is just amazing.
Just when you think youve seen it all in baseball
Or, as manager Bruce Bochy put it, as a smile crept acrosshis face: Its been said many times that spring training is overrated.
Zito only allowed two runners into scoring position. NoRockies reached third base.
He also struck out four while throwing his third completegame as a Giant and the 12th of his career. It was just the secondtime that he went the distance without issuing a walk; the other instance wasSept. 10, 2000 his rookie season against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
It was his fifth career shutout and his first since April18, 2003, when he still wore green and gold. He couldnt remember anythingabout that day, except that he pitched against the Texas Rangers. It had been solong ago.
One more: Zito became just the ninth opponent to throw ashutout at Coors Field; he and Roy Oswalt are the only pitchers to accomplishit in the last 13 seasons.
How did he do it? By keeping the Rockies off his fastball,getting ahead in the count and surprising them whenever he fell behind.
Even when he was behind in the count, he always got evenwith the breaking ball or the changeup for a strike, Rockies catcher RamonHernandez said. As hitters, even when youre ahead, if you see something soft,you take. Early on, maybe the first four innings, it seemed like he did notthrow one breaking ball for a ball. Thats going to make him pretty tough.
He would get guys to stay back and then hed surprise youwith fastball in or away.
Bochy had closer Brian Wilson warmed up andholding a baseball on the bullpen mound as Zito began the ninth with 102 pitches.Zito needed just 12 more to retire the side.
He was throwing the ball so well, he deserved a chance togo out there, Bochy said. He had four pitches going and great concentration.He went out there and used his cutter, which helped him. He had good command ofhis fastball, curve and changeup, and he pounded the strike zone."
Zito kept some tenets of momentum pitching in hisdelivery, which he developed over the winter with controversial guru Tom House tweaks that were not well received by Giants officials. In his last twoexhibition starts, he got hammered for 10 runs on 16 hits (10 extra-base hits)and five walks in 5 13 innings. Something had to change.
Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner worked with Zito inhis last few side sessions to stand taller, which was more apparent in the windupthan the stretch. Zito said the newest adjustments were designed to give hisarm a little more time to catch up to the rest of his body.
Its just doing whatever I could to get the ball down,Zito said. The ball was up pretty good the last two starts of spring. It wasdoing everything I could to get my timing better, get out in front better. Itwas still a crouch but my weight was back a little more. It probably wasnt asobvious to the eye, but it was different.
The Giants haveasked Zito to watch Jamie Moyer, the Rockies 49-year-old wonder, who isscheduled to start against them on Thursday. Moyer doesnt throw a pitch above80 mph. Zito topped out at 84.
Zito might be catching onto something now. He understands he cant pitchlike hes throwing 90 mph any longer.
Youve just gotta be realistic, he said. Even if you spotup a lot of the time, guys are going to hit the fastball well so you just haveto keep them off balance. If you can get them looking for a couple pitches atthe same time, thats when things go well.
As for his success against the Rockies, which includes a 6-2record and 2.39 ERA in 18 career games?
I always say if you catch me on a good day when stuffsworking, things are going to turn out good regardless of the team, he said.
The next team that Zito faces will be the PittsburghPirates, at home on Saturday. Maybe then, hell get to follow terrific starts byLincecum, Bumgarner and Cain instead of three disappointing ones.
For an unexpectedly sunny and warm Colorado afternoon though,Zito was the rock the rotation needed.
Ah, thats good, he said, asked about being a stopper. Nota personal thing but from a team standpoint, it feels great especially to winin the fashion we did. We had good at-bats early. We just played good baseballoverall today. Its a good feeling to motivate us to keep it going.