Kruk, Kuip, Jon & Dave dish out their players of the game
SAN FRANCISCO – Barry Zito is not searching any longer.
But he did sneak a look.
How could you blame him? Six of his teammates were raising a bright orange World Series banner -- a priceless tapestry that symbolized all they accomplished last season. And for once, Zito could say that some of the embroidery was his handiwork.
The Giants don’t escape St. Louis if not for his tremendous start in Game 5 of the NLCS. Perhaps they don’t beat the Detroit Tigers if not for the tone he set in Game 1 of the World Series.
Unlike 2010, when the former Cy Young Award winner felt shamed and emasculated, a $126 million pitcher left off the playoff roster, throwing perfunctory bullpens just in case of a meteor shower, Zito was a part of this most recent championship. He was at the heart of it.
So after his long toss session, as he walked to the bullpen mound to prepare for a home-opening assignment that he was so well cast to start, Zito looked over his shoulder.
He wasn’t looking for solutions or answers. He wasn’t looking for a way to jam that right-handed power hitter or lock up that lefty in the box. He wasn’t looking for a way up or down or out.
He looked at that banner, billowing in the crisp sea air, knowing that his legacy as a Giant could always be wrapped up in it.
“I took two seconds for that to soak in,” he said.
Then he went out and attacked the Cardinals again, throwing seven shutout innings in a 1-0 victory – the 15th consecutive time the Giants have won when Zito started the game.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants 1, Cardinals 0]
He does not see any great truths or common threads in the streak. It’s more a curiosity than anything. Each spin of the roulette wheel is unto itself, and yet the Giants keep coming up in the black, every single time.
A continuation from last season, perhaps?
“Maybe stat wise you guys can make a story out of that,” he told reporters. “But every day, I feel, is another day. For me it’s preparation and knowing an opponent, knowing their tendencies and their sweet spots and weak spots, and after that, it’s about forgetting everything and living pitch to pitch.
“So for me to look at streaks and to try to keep them going is not conducive to being pitch to pitch in every game.”
Pitch for pitch, Zito was brilliant. And pound for pound, so was Pablo Sandoval. Even though there had to be some gasps from the season-ticket holders when they espied the Panda filling out his uniform for the first time this season, the third baseman showed he can still make plays well beyond fall-down range. He credited his early-morning agility work with strength and conditioning trainer Carl Kochan with helping to maintain a quick first step.
[RATTO: Has Zito outperformed his contract?]
With Sandoval starting double plays and making every clean stop, Zito didn’t allow a runner in scoring position until the seventh inning, when Allen Craig singled and Matt Carpenter drew a two-out walk.
Craig had owned him (4 for 10, three home runs) earlier in his career, and did manage two of the three hits that Zito allowed. But they were both singles. Zito seemed to have an answer for every hitter. He seemed comfortable he could execute it, too.
A sequence to Carlos Beltran went 75-80-76-71-84, with changeups, cutters and curves used to set up a fastball that must’ve looked a lot firmer than it was as the dangerous switch hitter whiffed. Zito isn’t studying means and methods to add velocity. He isn’t making the battle an internal one. Instead of pondering his own limitations, he’s breaking down the real opponent.
The external one. The one in the batter’s box.
“He’s got a great game plan every time,” said catcher Buster Posey, who is also known to be a student of the scouting reports. “He’s throwing his pitches with conviction. He’s picking the right times to nibble off the corners and the right times to attack.
“He’s just pitching really smart.”
He’s smart enough to know he can’t take anything for granted, either. Not even after 15 consecutive happy handshake lines.
“I wish I could say I was locked in for 15,” he said. “Baseball is an unpredictable game. Today was a battle for me to make pitches. The defense was the difference today.”
Maybe Zito sees no common thread in these 15 outings. But whenever he likes, he can look up and find that cloth, flapping over the right field arcade. And know he helped to spin it.