Giants

Zito stays focused amidst personal tragedy

zito-barry-intense-eyes-delivery.jpg

Zito stays focused amidst personal tragedy

Rael Enteen
CSNBayArea.com staff writer 

SAN FRANCISCO – Major League Baseball has a bereavement list for players dealing with a death in the family. Barry Zito wanted no part of it.

Three days after the death of his father Joseph, Zito took the mound at AT&T Park. He settled in after a shaky start to the outing to give the Giants seven strong innings in a game they would go on to win 2-1 in walk-off fashion.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants break through against Marlins in 11th] 

“I just try to minimize distractions when I take the mound, regardless of what it is,” Zito said. “Some things are a little heavier than others, but today I was able to go out there and stay focused and give the team a chance to win.”

The third of four games between the Giants and Miami Marlins didn’t end until Hector Sanchez’s shallow fly ball fell in front of Justin Ruggiano with the bases loaded in the 11th inning, long after Zito had departed. But Bruce Bochy knew to give credit where credit was due.

“It started with Zito,” Bochy said. “Considering what he’s had to go through, he had great focus out there. There’s nothing tougher than what he had to go through. To go out there with that focus, that’s impressive.”

While Zito was understandably hesitant to talk about the death of his father, his teammates picked him up.

Your browser does not support iframes.

“I think we were all impressed,” said Hunter Pence, who prevented the go-ahead run from scoring in the top of the 11th with a shoestring catch. “Obviously baseball is extremely important, but there’s perspective. For him to come out and pitch the way he did and be there for us…we’re a family too playing as a team, and we’re all here for him. He went out and pitched outstanding.”

Buster Posey said that Zito, despite the personal tragedy, was his usual self heading into Saturday’s start.

“Barry is the ultimate professional, but obviously when you lose a family member, especially a parent, I can’t image what he was going through,” Posey said. “He had his routine and he stuck to it and he gave us a great performance.”

Your browser does not support iframes.

It looked like Zito was headed for an early shower, not a great performance, after throwing 48 pitches to get through two innings. The Marlins only got to him for one run over that span, so Zito did his best to limit the damage, but a quality start did not appear likely early on.

Bochy said that Zito has proven over the course of his tenure with the Giants that he’s capable of bouncing back from early struggles, which has led to a longer leash.

“He’s probably got somewhat of a high pitch count because he’s using all his pitches and he doesn’t give in, which is a great quality,” Bochy said. “He’s also a guy that can handle it and he has shown that.”

The sentimental aspect of Zito’s outing overshadows the fact that the Giants were on the verge of losing three straight to baseball’s worst team. A loss would’ve put the Giants at .500 for the first time since April 2, the second day of the season, and on the verge of a sweep at home. Instead, the Giants improved to 24-14 at AT&T Park with their eighth walk-off win.

Gregor Blanco, leading off in Angel Pagan’s absence, reached base four times. His double to Triple’s Alley in the fifth inning bizarrely bounced high enough for a fan in the arcade seats to interfere. Zito, on first after a failed safety squeeze, was running on contact and umpires determined he would’ve scored from first had the ball stayed in play, knotting the game at a run apiece.

Zito left with the 1-1 tie in tact and turned it over to an overworked bullpen. But Bochy’s relievers combined for four scoreless innings, including 1.2 each from Sergio Romo and Sandy Rosario.

Rosario would’ve been in line for the loss if not for Pence’s gem in right. With two on and two out, Pence’s former teammate in Philadelphia Placido Polanco sent a slicing line drive the other way that found leather just before it would’ve hit grass.

“You know what’s on the line there,” Pence said. “I’m playing Polanco a little shallow, a little over. He’s really good at hitting those soft liners that way; he’s made a living off of it for a long, long time. Fortunately I was able to get there.”

Pence’s catch set the stage for a dramatic bottom half of the 11th that started when Blanco reached on an infield single.

“[Blanco] brings so much energy to the club,” Bochy said. “That’s what you love about him. He goes all out every play.”

After Marco Scutaro sacrificed Blanco to second, Posey followed with his own infield single on a close play, waving his arms wildly to beat first base umpire Mark Wegner to the call.

“They wanted it bad,” Bochy said. “You saw them going down the line in the last inning. They were doing all they can to beat those balls out. It’s good for these guys because they’re fighting.”

The hustle was rewarded after the Marlins intentionally walked Pence to load the bases for Sanchez, who sent the second pitch he saw from reliever Ryan Webb to shallow left. Unlike Pence, who appeared to put his legs into high gear on his game-saving catch, Ruggiano hesitated and didn’t even attempt a dive, allowing Blanco to trot home from third for the win.

The Giants have now gone 84 innings since their last home run, a leadoff shot by Blanco in Atlanta on June 14, but Bochy isn’t concerned.

“We’re a team that tries to keep the line moving and execute like we did the last inning,” Bochy said. “Home runs are nice, but we know it’s not our strength. They’ll come. We’re in a little rut right now, but these things seem to be streaky. Right now we’re just not hitting home runs, but you’ll see them come.”

Gary Brown never recovered on the field from 2015 DFA: ‘Hurt me to my core’

brown-gary-ap2.jpg
AP

Gary Brown never recovered on the field from 2015 DFA: ‘Hurt me to my core’

There was a time when Gary Brown was considered the Giants’ top prospect – their center fielder of the future. Hype was never higher than in 2011, when the fleet-footed 22-year-old set a franchise record with 188 hits in 131 games, earning California League Rookie of the Year honors with the San Jose Giants in his first full minor league campaign.

But six seasons and seven major league at-bats later, Brown’s professional baseball career ended at 28 years old.

“I feel like I let my emotions get the best of me in the years after that (2011 season),” Brown told NBC Sports Bay Area in an exclusive phone interview. “I think I started to believe the hype that everyone started to give to me.”

Brown never matched his magical .336-season in High-A ball with 14 home runs plus 53 stolen bases, and then struggled finding a routine with the rigors of the Pacific Coast League’s travel schedule once he reached Triple-A. Despite three hits in his seven at-bats as a September call-up with the Giants in 2014, Brown was designated for assignment on March 31, 2015.

Brown’s career spiraled playing the draining waiver game. Unsuccessful stints with the Cardinals and Angels sent Brown to the land of the last chance: Independent ball in the Atlantic League.

“It was not fun for me for quite a few years. I wasn’t a very happy person,” Brown said. “After I got DFA'd by the Giants, that really took a toll on me. I never really recovered from that, so I was kind of stuck in the past and things kind of just got away from me. 

“I was kind of heartbroken to be honest. I mean, it hurt me to my core.”

Through tumultuous career turns, the Southern California native never turned on the team that drafted him 24th overall in 2010.

“I'm thankful for the opportunity the Giants gave me. No matter how big or small mine was, I am very thankful” Brown said. “I definitely wish I could have shown what I feel like my true potential was, but it didn't work out that way. 

“I still root for the Giants. All my friends with the Giants, I'm still pulling for them. They run that organization so well. I have no ill intentions or anything bad to say about the Giants organization.” 

Far removed from his days with the Giants, Brown found new life with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2016. Brown batted .249 and returned to the team in 2017. He started strong with a .298 batting average in 31 games while having fun for the first time in years, but injuries struck at an inopportune time.

Chronic aches in his hip joints and intense back spasms, in addition to a frustrating lack of interest from MLB teams and the fact he and his wife had twins on the way, spurred Brown to retirement in the middle of the season on July 5.

“Retirement has nothing to do with the lack of competitiveness (of the Atlantic League). It was the distance and the time away, matching the minor league salary,” Brown said. “Going back to that makes it really hard on the family and when you get older it really becomes about what you value more.”

The player he once was is gone, but the person he is has only grown. There’s one piece of advice which goes beyond the diamond that Brown was sure to pass on to the next wave of future top Giants prospects.

“Never stop making adjustments,” Brown said ruefully.

Days away from turning 29 on Sept. 28 and out of baseball for the first time in his life, Brown is certainly making his own.

Matt Moore blanks Rockies, continues late-season surge

moore.jpg
AP

Matt Moore blanks Rockies, continues late-season surge

SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Moore knew there was something different about his final home start at AT&T Park this season, and not just the fact that he received a loud ovation as he walked off the mound in the seventh. Moore noted later that the outing was the first shutout he has been a part of this year. In fact, it was the first time in 30 starts that he walked off the mound without having allowed a run. 

“I guess it’s better late than never,” he said. 

The Giants are hoping it’s actually a preview of things to come. They counted on Moore to be a big part of their 2017 push, but instead, he likely will finish with the worst ERA of any full-time starter in the National League. Still, general manager Bobby Evans has informed Moore that his 2018 option will be picked up, something that Moore appreciated given the time of year. 

“I always pictured myself here,” he said. 

Whether coincidence or some kind of “weight off the shoulders” situation, Moore’s first start since the public revealing of the decision was his most encouraging of the year. Facing a good lineup, and a team that needed a win desperately, he pitched six shutout innings. The Giants beat the Rockies 4-0. 

Moore was already showing signs of life, with a 3.76 ERA over his seven previous appearances. Bruce Bochy viewed this as another step forward. 

“It’s been getting better and better with each start,” he said. “What he did really well today was on the arm side. He had good balance to both sides of the plate.”

Moore peppered the outside corner with fastballs, and he credited catcher Nick Hundley with stealing a few strikes. The plan allowed Moore to put hitters away in big spots, one of three points of emphasis he brought into the second half. The other two: limiting lefties and getting ahead of hitters.

That’s Moore’s roadmap back to being the player the Giants acquired. For the team as a whole, the roadmap back to relevance is similar to Wednesday’s plan. This is not a home-run hitting lineup, but the Giants are 47-21 when scoring four runs, and Wednesday was a reminder of the different paths to that magical number. 

Brandon Crawford had a solo homer, but the first two runs came on sacrifice flies and the fourth on a walk-wild pitch-single combination. Bochy said he liked “the brand of ball” his team played.

“They executed so well today,” he said. “It’s just good baseball, and that’s what I felt good about.”